Among the Pyramids

Ernst Müller and Falko Schmieder, Begriffsgeschichte und historische Semantik: Ein kritisches Kompendium (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016), 1,027 pp.

About ten years ago, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht pronounced conceptual history dead, buried beneath the “pyramids of the spirit” of its gigantic lexicon projects.1 Now, Ernst Müller and Falko Schmieder, both of the Berlin Center for Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL), have taken it upon themselves to chart these pyramids and the intellectual landscape in which they were erected. The authors approach their topics as archeologists, tracing the history of the major figures, currents, schools, institutions, and developments of the field of conceptual history and historical semantics. Yet at the same time, their maps are charted with an immediate purpose in mind: providing orientation to travelers in a field of study that—as the authors emphasize—is alive and kicking and immensely fertile (11-12).

In their introduction, the authors sketch their twofold objective to give a historical overview of the development of this field as well as to provide a basis for future interdisciplinary debates and transfers. They differentiate historical semantics as a “superordinate term” for the multitude of methodical approaches addressing linguistic change in the widest sense from the more specific field of conceptual history, which—following Willibald Steinmetz2—they understand to be concerned with “nodal points in the diachronic change of meaning of single words” (18). The first five chapters each trace the genesis of conceptual history and historical semantics within a particular academic field. Their sequence, ranging from philosophy (chapter 1), history, politics, and social sciences (chapter 2), linguistics and literature (chapter 3), and history of science and knowledge (chapter 4) to cultural studies (chapter 5), evokes not only the wide variety of disciplinary contexts in which historical semantics has been developed, but also the temporal succession of its dominant paradigms. Accordingly, the first chapter opens with its long-term prehistory, starting with the linguistic debates of what would later be called the Sattelzeit, and the fifth closes with a discussion of the major challenges and prospects facing future research, highlighting developments in the field of digital humanities, the study of processes of transfer and translation, and the issue of interdisciplinarity. The sixth and final chapter stands somewhat alone, focusing on the institutions, journals, and lexica that have given historical semantics its concrete academic reality.

A review cannot hope to do justice to a work so comprehensive (and voluminous) as this. Instead of enumerating the wealth of topics, debates, and arguments included, it seems more useful to give an impression of the volume’s general approach. For this purpose, there could be worse places to start than with the paragraph on Reinhart Koselleck (278–337). In many ways, it can be thought of as the compendium’s centerpiece. At almost sixty pages divided into thirteen subparagraphs, it is the longest paragraph. Moreover, others are very often structured with reference to it, pinpointing where the theoretical approach under discussion is a precursor to, influenced by, related to, or even just “similar” to one or the other of Koselleck’s theorems. The fact that Koselleck’s entry in the index of names refers to almost three hundred individual pages underlines his pivotal importance to the work’s approach.

Throughout the compendium, the paragraphs combine the summary and critical discussion of major works, theorems, and arguments with their historical contextualization. In addition, short digressions apply the methods of conceptual history to its own development, tracing the history of prominent theoretical concepts like mentalité (241–243) or figure (37–39, 440–441) within the field. With reference to Koselleck’s work, the authors put particular emphasis on its multiplicity, analyzing the intricate relations between various parts of the reuvre as well as its contradictions. More than in other paragraphs, the critical appreciation of Koselleck’s work is developed in detailed discussion with the wide-ranging existing literature. In such parts, Müller and Schmied- er’s own theoretical positions come to the fore most prominently, accepting some critical arguments (306, 311) while rebuking others as “one-sided” (279), “deficient” (294), or even “trivializing” (280). With reference to the famous and influential concept of the contemporaneity of the noncontemporaneous, to mention just one example, the authors discuss Achim Landwehr’s objection that this concept implicitly presupposes a homogenous, universal, and ultimately Eurocentric temporal framework from which all differences are subsequently derived.3 Although the authors appreciate the analytical openness of Landwehr’s alternative concept of multiple and equal “contemporaneities,” they remain ultimately unconvinced, pointing to the empirical reality of a “pressure to monolithic contemporaneity” (315) in an increasingly entangled world marked by the pressures of global capitalism and power structures.

In their historical contextualization of the developments of historical semantics, the authors emphasize the period of National Socialism both as a caesura and, in its aftermath, a major motivating force in the development of historical semantics. Quoting the ancestral lineage of conceptual history (Erich Rothacker, Werner Jaeger, Johannes Kuhn, Carl Schmitt, Walter Schlesinger, Otto Brunner) outlined by Koselleck in his introduction to Historische Semantik und Begriffsgeschichte (1978), the authors note the dominant presence of conservative authors implicated in the National Socialist ideology (619–623). In this light, they argue, conceptual history’s strong focus on the birth of the modern era since the Enlightenment may also be taken as an implicit downplaying of the importance of National Socialism as an epochal turning point. Calling attention to a postwar international dictionary project funded by UNESCO, which aimed to clarify the concepts of Western democracy and promote international understanding, the authors point out how its collapse in the face of German reluctance to cooperate makes the specifically German tradition of conceptual history that would emerge from this failure appear as a “German response to the allied imposition to concern themselves with the causes and effects of the political catastrophe after 1933” (137). In terms of academic careers, the field provided many scholars implicated in the former regime with a politically “unburdened research niche, in which one could cultivate old contacts” (853).

If the canon sketched by Koselleck already seems very one-sided at first glance, it is also significant in what it leaves out. There is no mention of any non-German thinkers or influences, nor indeed of any of those alternative traditions in the German-language field that were violently cut off by National Socialist persecution and exile. In view of this, Schmieder and Müller put a special focus on what they call the “other genealogy” (255) of historical semantics. They excavate alternative routes and roads not taken, highlight international transfers, networks, and entanglements, and rediscover key figures that today have largely been forgotten. A case in point is the Jewish historian Richard Koebner (254–268), one of the early founders of historical semantics whose fall into oblivion the authors perceive to be an especially blatant example of the enduring effects of National Socialist exclusionary policies (254). Koebner also provides an example for the ambivalent role of Koselleck as a point of reference. Although there is no evidence for direct influence between the two thinkers, the compendium’s authors believe it is “not improbable” (255) that Koselleck may have known Koebner’s work before its rediscovery in 1990. Still, even as the authors examine Koebner’s work very strongly in terms of its similarity (or dissimilarity) to Koselleck’s, they seem hesitant to do so, stressing that Koebner, “who made diametrically opposed experiences,” should not be “measured” solely by Koselleck’s standard (254–255, 268).

Without a doubt, this work will be an instant classic—another pyramid, perhaps. In conclusion, we may ask for whom exactly it was written. In calling it a “critical compendium,” the authors evoke several functions at once. As a reference work, it is unparalleled in its comprehensiveness. Its clear-cut structure and two indexes make it easy to use. One can only hope that it will soon be translated into English so that even more readers can profit from the concise and well-written introductions to a wide range of thinkers, methods, and theories. Introductions? Well, yes and no. Although the authors have done their very best to make the material accessible, their topic does not always make for easy reading. Accordingly, the book will be most useful to advanced students and researchers already familiar with at least one of the many subfields of historical semantics. To them, this work offers many useful vistas into other areas of research, such that the work may indeed function as a catalyst of the interdisciplinary dialogue its authors deem to be among the field’s major future challenges.


Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Dimensionen und Grenzen der Begriff sgeschichte (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, 2006), 7.


Willibald Steinmetz, “Vierzig Jahre Begriff sgeschichte: The State of the Art,” in Sprache—Kognition—Kultur: Sprache zwischen mentaler Struktur und kultureller Prägung, ed. Heidrun Kämper and Ludwig M. Eichinger (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), 174–197.


Achim Landwehr, “Von der ‘Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen,’” Historische Zeitschrift 295, no. 1 (2012): 1–34, doi:10.1524/hzhz.2012.0350.

“Working” (on) the Concept of Work

Jörn Leonhard and Willibald Steinmetz, eds., Semantiken von Arbeit: Diachrone und vergleichende Perspektive (Cologne: Bohlau Verlag, 2016), 413 pp.

From antiquity to modernity and beyond, the interpretation of work has oscillated between ideologies and philosophical systems, being turned and twisted by and through politics, economics, and moral and political religions. Its meanings have evolved from molestia (displeasure) to opus (work, reuvre), from slavery to freedom, from Taylorism to Stakhanovism and the hero of socialist labor. Nowadays it is generally accepted that work is central in the lives of most people, for it defines status.1 Oxford Book of Work defines work as:

an activity that has an end beyond itself, being designed to produce or achieve something; it involves a degree of obligation or necessity, being a task that others set us or that we set ourselves; and it is arduous, involving effort and persistence beyond the point at which the task ceases to be wholly pleasurable.2

The recent edited volume Semantiken von Arbeit: Diachrone und vergleichende Perspektive offers, as the title promises, a comparative diachronic and semantic history of the concept of work. According the editors, Jörn Leonhard and Willibald Steinmetz, the book aims to reveal the meanings and the shifts of meaning within vocabularies that together constitute the semantic field of what we today call work (10). It is an audacious, interdisciplinary project reuniting mainly contributions presented within two workshops on the semantics of work organized at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (2010) and the Institut für Soziale Bewegungen Bochum (2011).

The two workshops are reflected in the volume’s structure, correspondingly organized into two sections: (1) concepts and spheres of work approaches from a historical-semantic, social-historical, and ethnographic perspective,3 and (2) contesting work and nonwork in the industrial and postindustrial world.4 The volume’s fifteen studies investigate the conceptualization of work from antiquity to the present time, and although mainly focusing on the Western European space, regions and cultures in North America, Africa, and Asia are brought into the discussion. The first three studies deal with the meanings of work in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, while the rest problematize the meanings of work in modernity and postmodernity.

The editors begin with a sixty-page introductory study and offer lengthy insights on the master narratives regarding the concept of work—“Meister-erzählungen zum Arbeitsbegriff” (12–41). The editors’ starting point is Werner Conze’s article on the concept of work in the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe lexicon.5 Additional to the Koselleckian four dimensions of conceptual change (temporalization, democratization, ideologization, and politicization), which are lengthily discussed in Conze’s article, Leonhard and Steinmetz call into question further semantic trends that emerged as consequences to phenomena specific to the twentieth century: nationalization and sacralization of the work-concept, the alienation through work, or the humanization of work. A certain totalizing tendency of the concept of work—Totalitatstendenz (36)—is highlighted also by Conze but rather common to the second part of the “short century” and raises further thorny questions regarding both method and meanings. In the second part of the introductory study (41–59), Leonhard and Steinmetz emphasize the challenges of bringing interdisciplinary and possibly diverging approaches to a converging point of view within the historical-semantic analysis and theoretical-methodological framework.

Focusing on the tension between the analytical use of language and historical semantics, the volume’s editors convincingly argue that, compared to existing studies on work, Semantiken von Arbeit considers three further dimensions: time—the priority of longue durée structures from the early Middle Ages to present times, less underscoring the Sattelzeit; space—expansion of the targeted area outside the European space, which highlights, on one hand, the effects of conceptual imports, exports, and translations (44), and the epistemological advantages of a semantically compared analysis on the other hand; and the methodological-disciplinary objective—the volume’s goal is to investigate “concepts in action,” that is, the use of concepts in certain constellations and contexts and their Koselleckian function as factors and indicators of social reality (45).

Based on five Latin concepts—servitium, opus, ars, merces, and labor—Ludolf Kuchenbuch investigates how these key concepts were used in the ora et labora medieval communicative and social context and shows their role in the genesis of the modern concept of work. Josef Ehmer explores the work discourses in the German-speaking space in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Sven Korzilius approaches slavery in Iberian colonial societies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Gerd Spittler provides an exciting ethnologic analysis of work based on interviews with workers and ethnographic case studies investigated in the period 1950–2000. Significantly, according to Spittler, across time and space most of the public discourses regarding work belong to individuals or groups that relate to work indirectly, whereas the workers’ discourse about work has a direct and practice-related dimension (164).

Laura Frader convincingly argues that gender and ethnoracial discourses specific to France in the first half of the twentieth century triggered new interpretations of work and influenced work-related practices. Furthermore, gender and ethnoracial differences shaped state and employers’ attitudes and policies toward work.

Two further contributions approach the conceptualization of work on the African continent. Exploring work from a social-historical perspective, Reinhard Schulze provides a diachronic history of the concept in the Arabic world (mainly Egypt but also the Ottoman territories) and explores the moral dimension of work within the Islamic dogma. In twentieth-century colonial Congo, a core concept of the semantic field of work understood as a paid activity is, according to Julia Seibert, the term kazi. Its meanings are multiple and denominate, as Seibert shows, a type of work related to industry and opposed to an agrarian activity called kulima. Its diachrony, argues Seibert, evolved from a synonym for slavery in the 1920s to present-day positive meanings and connotations of individual paid work (223).

A further contribution to the volume’s comparative objective is Shingo Shimada’s article on the conceptualization of work in twentieth-century Japan. Rodo, shigoto, and hataraku are, according to Shimada, the core concepts of the Japanese semantic field of work. Their meanings reveal strong Western European influences through translations of works by Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, or Karl Marx (310).

Sigrid Wadauer problematizes the methodological challenges related to the investigation of work semantics and discusses the aforementioned “totalizing tendency” of work. According to her, the questions of what work is and whether everything is work are still unclear and marginally investigated (227).

The articles in the volume’s second section debate the work vs. nonwork dichotomy in the industrial and postindustrial world.6 Continuing in the vein of Sigrid Wadauer’s interrogations about the totalizing tendencies of the concept of work, Kiran Klaus Patel provides a convincingly augmented comparative study on the semantics of work in the United States and Germany during the economic crisis of the 1930s. He reveals that nationalization, militarization, sacralization—Arbeit als Gottesdienst (291)—and morality of work as proof of belonging to the Volksgemeinschaft were at the core of the Nazi work rhetoric. Across the Atlantic, the New Deal politics and policies rejected, at least officially, any forms of racial discrimination. Although a common trend on both sides of the ocean, the militarization of work had in the United States, as Patel’s study depicts, some peculiarities: many Americans interpreted the economic crisis as a warlike threat, which called for the intervention of the US Army through the Corps and “soil soldiers” (303), which subsequently influenced in the long term work-related rhetoric and practices.

By investigating the semantics of nonwork in the second half of nineteenth-century Germany, Thomas Welskopp shows how negative labels such as Geldsäcken (moneybags) or Couponabschneidern (bondholders) were used to denigrate “exploiters” or forms of work held as unproductive. Bénédicte Zimmermann deftly compares the discourses of unemployment in late nineteenth-century Germany and France by investigating statistical data on Arbeitslosigkeit and chômage, respectively, in the population censuses. The differences between the semantics of nonwork in the two states, according to Zimmermann, are nowadays still visible: while the French semantics of nonwork are influenced by a juridical understanding of dependence, the economic factor dubbed by a worker’s individual guilt for his/her own unemployment is decisive in Germany. Jörg Neuheiser and Dietmar Süß problematize the longue durée structure of nonwork by showing how traditional meanings were perpetuated and reactivated in the second half of the twentieth century.

Ulrich Bröckling investigates neoliberal meanings of work at the end of the “short century,” this time not from a worker’s perspective but from an entrepreneurial one. In the enterprise culture, the entrepreneur’s work, as Br5ckling reveals, consists of and leads to employment of other people who, according to a bilaterally signed contract, sell their labor for payment. Furthermore, the human capital theory asserts that the entrepreneur’s role resembles an economic institution whose assets depend on its own decisions. Neoliberal interpretations of work postulate the end of class conflicts and antagonisms between employer and employee, for the person becomes the capitalist of his own life (381). While the entrepreneur demands engagement and initiative from the worker’s side, the employee evolves to an “intrapreneur” whose actions and results of work satisfy the entrepreneur’s needs and standards (382).

Thomas Sokoll’s Kommentar concludes the volume with some final observations that summarize the book’s findings. Additional to the themes and approaches in the volume, Sokoll suggests five further research fields regarding the semantics of work—work and coercion, work and law, work and market, work and class, and work and profession—which, according Sokoll, can be traced back to early modernity.

The volume impresses with its interdisciplinary approach, the amount of information, and the high theoretical and methodological ambitions and standards. The editors succeed in bringing the fifteen contributions to a convergent historical-semantic perspective and at the same time underline the benefits of the various directions the authors represent. I hold the book’s comparative dimension as a fundamental tool for an in-depth investigation of work’s diachrony and semantic field. Thus, the analysis of further cultural spaces such as Africa and Asia is here essential not only for the investigation of semantic imports, exports, translations, and local appropriations and/or (mis)adaptations but also for the theoretical questions and new emerging methodological challenges as well. However, the editors’ focus on Western Europe hampers the volume’s European comparative potential. Despite relevant observations that could be gained by following the volume’s three programmatic dimensions of time, space, and methodology, the semantics of work in the Eastern European space are hardly mentioned. The diachrony of work and the social-political languages in general that evolved in Europe’s eastern regions are connected to and at the same time separated from those in the West. I believe that phenomena explored in the volume by Julia Seibert, Reinhard Schulze, and Shingo Shimada in Africa or Asia occurred on a deeper, subtler, and even more complex level inside the European continent. For a broader investigation of work as a “concept in action,” I hold the inclusion of the Habsburg monarchy, with its extraordinary diversity of languages, cultural groups, and specific com- municational contexts, to be highly rewarding. Similarly, the militarization, sacralization, nationalization, alienation, or humanization of work are well represented in the Eastern European twentieth century, both in democratic and totalitarian regimes.

A further suggestion is the possibility of including conceptualizations of semantics of work as “no work” or “less work” understood not as counterconcepts of work but as an alternative to it. Later postmodern approaches, for example, hold obsolete the dichotomy of work vs. freedom. In 1999, Ulrich Beck argued that the out-of-date right to work should be replaced with the belief that all members of society are entitled to a minimum income.7 The referendum in Switzerland (2016) and later similar Dutch and Finnish initiatives concerning basic income show new trends in the interpretation of work and the corresponding need to reevaluate the question, “Is work everything?”


Andreas Eckert, “What Is Global Labour History Good For?” in Work in a Modern Society, ed. Jürgen Kocka (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), 169–182, here 170.


Keith Thomas, ed., Oxford Book of Work (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 14.


“Arbeitsbegriffe und Arbeitswelten: Annäherungen aus historisch-semantischer, sozialgeschichtlicher und etnographischer Sicht,” 63–246.


“Definitionskämpfe um Arbeit und Nicht-Arbeit in der industriellen und postindustriellen Welt,” 247–390.


Werner Conze, “Arbeit,” in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexicon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschalnd, vol. 1, ed. Otto Brunder, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1972), 154–215.


“Definitionskampfe um Arbeit und Nicht-Arbeit in der industriellen und postindustriellen Welt,” 247–390.


Ulrich Beck, Schöne neue Arbeitswelt-Vision: Weltbürgerschaft (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999).

Negotiating Modernity The Entanglement of Political Thought in the Nineteenth Century

Balázs Trencsényi, Maciej Janowski, Mónika Baár, Maria Falina, and Michal Kopeček, A History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe, Volume I: Negotiating Modernity in the “Long Nineteenth Century” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 687 pp.

Even today, the history of East Central Europe remains at the margins of a larger European history. Ideas and concepts are a case in point in which the East seems to be absent from a European or even global outline. Balázs Trencsényi, Maciej Janowski, Mónika Baár, Maria Falina, and Michal Kopeček aim at filling this obvious blank spot in the research, introducing East Central Europe into the general formation of political thought and contextualizing the region in a European perspective. Their study is the remarkable product of a long-term collective project and the first of two volumes. The five authors represent a younger generation of intellectual historians from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia, who have already presented several insightful and groundbreaking transnational studies on modern political thought in East Central Europe.1

The study under review offers a rich perspective and can be read both as a compendium and a comparative synthesis for political thought in the region. It pays special attention to the entanglement of thought and diligently depicts the interconnectedness of intellectual actors, ideas, and the wider society at any specific moment in time. Following this focus, Negotiating Modernity in the “Long Nineteenth Century” explicitly challenges two misperceptions that prevail in much of the literature: Western hegemony on intellectual thought and the linear understanding of modernity as a process. Instead, the authors call for rethinking “the very categories in which the history of modern political ideas—and thus of political modernity, as such—has traditionally been formulated” (1) and apply a differentiated and flexible comparative approach both in regard to the temporality and contextualization of political thought. In consequence, this calls for decentering intellectual European history from an East Central European point of view.

Tréncsenyi, Janowki, Baár, Falina, and Kopeček present an unusually wide focus of East Central Europe that includes the Baltic region and Southeastern Europe in addition to what is classically subsumed under the Bohemian lands, Hungary, and Poland-Lithuania with present-day Ukraine and Belarus. Their time frame covers the reception of Enlightenment ideas since the mid-eighteenth century until the fin de siécle, but will expand to the twentieth century in the upcoming second volume. With this, the authors apply a structural definition of the historical region that makes use of the dynamic entanglement of East Central European actors, concepts, and discourse within the region itself. The book proceeds in four analytical phases of development—discovering, spiritualizing, institutionalizing, and, eventually, taming modernity—and suggests a systematic approach toward political thought rather than a strict chronological form. Across this systematic structure, key elements characterizing the region appear around the book, which ensures historical depth and opens up development over time. Modernity and modernization are clearly not the leitmotif of this narrative, but the rise of mass politics and the consequent democratization of political concepts shine through as influential and challenging developments with relevance well into the twentieth century.

Looking into this form with the help of an example, the authors collectively study nations—beyond question one of the crucial factors of modern political thought—as an emancipatory romantic concept, an institutional principle, and an incentive to create difference. Here and similarly with other topics, each chapter gathers an overview over political thought across the region. “Discourse on National Awakening” (168–181) studies the (re)construction of vernacular languages that underpinned any drive for social and national emancipation and politicized seemingly technical questions. The authors follow by and large national frames and bring the relevant clusters of actors and ideas into relation with equivalent ideological formations both in the West and the region. In comparison, they demonstrate that the codification of languages created an inclusive framework of communication, gave way to expanding the nation to nonprivileged strata of society, and necessarily marked off this community from others. This example emphasizes the hybridity of East Central European political thought as the creation of a symbolic and performative link mobilized language “between archaism and modernity” (181). In a more general perspective, this also demonstrates that the drive toward particularism, such as nationalism, came about as a shared development and included, to a significant degree, a universal scope.

“The Interplay of National and Imperial Principles of Organization” (281–317) discusses the manifold attempts of reshaping composite states to correspond with ethnic and national plurality even before the heydays of nationalism. Despite all differences, such an approach searched for a theoretical justification to balance power between imperial and local rule. Other thinkers, however, leaned toward panideologies that connected “small” nations to secure their relevance, but often favoring a single nation over others. The chapter on “Coping with Diversity” (495–563) takes up these ideas and follows their development as a complement to late nineteenth-century nations and nationalisms. Focusing on the conceptualization of diversity, federalist projects, and supranationalism, the authors underline the ambiguous character of such inclusive approaches toward multiethnicity. One example, Illyrian and Yugoslav federalism, demonstrates that such concepts of order beyond single nations did not contradict nationalism or its prerogatives. Quite the contrary, they often contributed to the emancipatory goals of nationalism and aimed to omit conflict between neighboring nations. Although not realized when developed, the Yugoslav and also Czechoslovak case prove their relevant potential for the postimperial situation in East Central Europe.

Trencsényi and his coauthors pay special attention to the role of religion in intellectual thought. For Christianity, both Western and Eastern, this is common ground in research on East Central Europe, but the authors also integrate Jewish and Muslim actors and intellectual thought into their study, the latter mainly in Bosnia and Albania. For instance, the case of Šerif Arnautovic, a Mostar-born Muslim intellectual, illuminates the flexible trajectory of identity concepts in the imperial constellations of Southeastern Europe. Arnautovic had been leaning toward Croatian state rights ideology, that is, a patriotism referring to historical political entities, and later argued for Muslim autonomy from Vienna on religious grounds. Under the threat of both Croatian and Serbian war aims during World War I, however, he turned toward a Habsburg loyalist position. With this and several other examples, the authors carve out that the inherent temporality of concepts in a dynamic political and cultural environment creates a specific hybridity of East Central European thought that stands out in comparison to other regions.

For Jewish history, several chapters carefully reconstruct the rise of anti-Semitism in East Central Europe from religious to ethnic and eventually racial discrimination. Studying the alleged Jewish question as the entanglement of assimilation, anti-Semitism, and Zionism allows for understanding the inherently modern trait of such radical exclusion and the transnational political mobilization of Jews. Even more so, both formations clearly portray the transposition of theoretical and abstract concepts to mass politics and significant social movements.

Taking up another chapter, in “Faces of Modernity” (564–608) the authors inquire into the experience of modern life at the brink of World War I, elucidating the conceptual history of modernity as such. Modernity was a central concept for most, if not all, thinkers studied in this work and often openly contested. The authors argue that at the turn of the century, both historiography and feminism highly reflected the social and cultural dynamics that led to the rise of human and social science and the expectation of fundamental changes, such as female suffrage. Both examples demonstrate that for intellectual politics mass politics meant taking the masses into account and not necessarily integrating them into decision making. In this chapter, they explicitly link the fin de siecle with the interwar nation-states and their mass politics. What was thought, planned, and designed in this late imperial context would later on inform democracies and authoritarian states and bring about—at least partial—social emancipation. Concluding the book with World War I (609–639) is an intuitive and understandable decision and follows the general understanding of a long nineteenth century. However, against the background of the developments described above, this end means interrupting the analytical scope of the project and limits its explanatory potential. The history of nations and nationalisms in East Central Europe clearly linked the nineteenth to the twentieth century, and the authors point to this continuity throughout the book and especially in the last chapter. Making use of this longue durée will be a major task for the second volume.

The authors deliver a concise and most detailed study that presents intellectual political thought in a dynamic context, both across the region and over time. The methodological approach of comparing different, mostly national examples and pointing out their cross-references and entanglements draws a convincing picture of East Central European as a region, but the asymmetric integration of Western Europe and rarely non-European backgrounds remains often too implicit to effectively decenter Western Europe political thought. Moreover, this concise history often lacks synthetic overviews that merge the various analytical insights into a bigger picture or discusses the findings with the existing literature. Regardless of the authors’ decision to opt for a differentiated and nonteleological narrative, the introduction to the volume and the short, summarizing passages at the end of each chapter prove that such a synopsis is possible—and stimulating for the reader. Clearly, these extensively differentiated synthetic fragments are the most fruitful contribution of this volume to our understanding of East Central European political thought.

Nevertheless, these remarks should not diminish the enormous contribution of this volume to the existing research. Negotiating Modernity in the “Long Nineteenth Century” is a stupendously informed and stimulating intellectual and cultural history of nineteenth-century East Central Europe. The volume is an invaluable source for any student and researcher of Central Europe or intellectual history, and one can only look forward to the second volume on the twentieth century.


See, most importantly, Balázs Trencsényi, The Politics of “National Character”: A Study in Interwar East European Thought (London: Routledge, 2012); Maciej Janowski, Narodziny Inteligencji 1750–1831 [The birth of an intelligentsia 1750–1931] (Warsaw: Neriton, 2008); Mónika Baár, Historians and Nationalism: East-Central Europe in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Michal Kopeček, Hledání ztraceného smyslu revoluce: Zrod a počátky marxistického revizionismu ve střední Evropě 1953–1960 [Quest for the revolution’s lost meaning: Origins of the Marxist Revisionism in central Europe 1953–1960] (Prague: Argo, 2009).

A Quest for Public Sociality The Case of Imperial and Soviet Russia

Yasuhiro Matsui, ed., Obshchestvennost’ and Civic Agency in Late Imperial and Soviet Russia: Interface between State and Society (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), xi + 234 pp.

The edited collection under review reexamines questions of civic agency, public sphere, and voluntary organizations in a hundred-year period of modern Russian and Soviet history. New findings by a group of Japanese scholars are neatly woven together in nine chapters by using a key concept in Russian history, obshchestvennost’ (public sociality), as a common thread.

The book is the result of a three-year research project titled “A Genealogy of obshchestvennost’ and Civic Agency in Modern and Contemporary Russia.” The chapters aim to contribute to the conceptual history of obshchestvennost’ and to provide evidence that there is continuity in the history of the interface between state and society throughout imperial and Soviet Russia. By identifying various social, cultural, and political phenomena as manifestations of different aspects of Russian and Soviet conceptualizations of obshchestvennost’, the authors show the structural links in these forms of public sociality that attempted to create spheres of civic agency, social solidarity, and even self-governmentality independent of the state. In other words, the book argues that obshchestvennost’ does not disappear in Soviet times; it only changes form, as the complex semantic matrix of obshchestvennost’ was flexible enough to adapt itself to the changing discursive fields of Russian history.

Obshchestvennost’ is an indigenous Russian word that is often left untranslated, as it can be replaced with various English equivalents depending on the context. Yasuhiro Matsui, editor of the book, mentions on the very first page several solutions: “public, public sphere, public opinion, social organizations, educated society, middle class and civil society” (1). The richness and heterogeneity of the changing semantic layers of obshchestvennost’ contributed to the challenges of writing a meaningful history of the concept, although there have been attempts by scholars. This collection incorporates into its methodology Vadim Volkov’s research on the conceptual history of obshchestvennost’.1 He differentiates between the methods of a formal procedure of concept application and cross-cultural translation of a concept. The formal method attempts to identify “similar functions in different structures” and has a normative edge, while the cross-cultural approach has a stronger interpretative element and “would first map out the corresponding tradition.”2 In the framework of the interpretative method, Volkov argued for the integration of the “lost concept” of obshchestvennost’ into the writing of the history of “civil society” in the Russian and Soviet context, in contrast to focusing on the Russian mirror translation of “civil society,” that is, grazhdanskoe obshchestvo. He emphasized two aspects as the core of obshchestvennost’: social solidarity and active social agency. Even if one can question such an approach, it is undoubtedly one of the strengths of the book that chapters are written with a coherent methodology, and authors investigate similar questions and present a consistent logic in their analysis.

The first three chapters discuss late imperial Russia and focus on areas that have been neglected in previous research. The first chapter, by Yukiko Tatsumi, investigates the 1870s and the role of Russian literary criticism in the emergence of obshchestvennost’, understood predominantly as “public sphere.” Tatsumi analyzes the life of Vladimir Stasov (1824–1906), prominent art and music critic, mostly associated with the promotion of “Russian national art.” Chapter 2, by Yoshifuru Tsuchiya, juxtaposes obshchestvennost’ as “public opinion” with the informal sociability of workers, and he also discusses the changes in this relationship before and after the 1905 revolution. The last chapter on imperial Russia describes liberals in the political arena in the years leading up to World War I. It puts into the forefront the understanding of obshchestvennost’ as an imagined and moralized community struggling and confronting bureaucracy and government (vlast’) in the name of progress.

The remaining chapters focus on Soviet Russian history. Zenji Asaoka discusses the rabsel’kor movement, an amateur letter-writing movement among workers and villagers, through ideas by Nikolai Bukharin, who was an ideologue of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the 1920s. Bukharin considered the rabsel’kor movement to be part of the Soviet obshchestvennost’ that should help to close the gap between the party apparatus and the masses to progress toward the realization of the “commune-state.” Chapters 5 and 6 focus on Stalinist times and the ways in which obshchestvennost’ could have survived under an oppressive regime. Matsui’s chapter reconstructs forms of housing self-management and cultural work during the 1930s, with a special emphasis on self-managed canteens. He believes this “community consciousness” is important, as he sees it as an alternative to official obshchestvennost’ in the period. Mie Nakachi discusses women’s health, abortion, and medical discourse after World War II. She analyzes how the battle against abortion was often neglected by doctors during and after the war years, as it was considered to be of secondary importance. In her research, obshchestvennost’ is identified as a “feeling of common cause” and the disappearance of the fear to violate abortion laws in favor of protecting women’s health.

The last three chapters of the book focus on manifestations of obshchestvennost’ in the late 1950s and 1960s: the vigilant brigades, the comrades’ courts, and the dissident movement. The historical context for these articles is the Khrushchev era and the Twenty-First Party Congress, where the withering away of the state and the transfer of state functions to public organizations were reaffirmed. The official rhetoric of the period invited everyone to build communism together, and gave rise to various partnership relationships between authorities and Soviet citizens. Kiyohiro Matsudo highlights the increased role of people’s druzhiny or people’s vigilant brigades, who fought hooliganism and deviant behavior both at workplaces and on the streets in order to maintain public order. He argues that participants of these groups demonstrated active agency, as they were formed and recruited not only by obligation but also on a voluntary basis. The next chapter, by Kazuko Kawamoto, analyzes similar questions of civic agency in the context of the activities of comrades’ courts under Khrushchev, which could surveil behavior both at the workplace and at home, making the differentiation between the private and public spheres ambiguous. The last chapter is a second contribution by Matsui on a fascinating case of transnational agency by Soviet dissidents. The article focuses on the epoch-making appeal by Larisa Bogoraz and Pavel Litvinov to the “world public” (mirovaia obshchestvennost’), the first case when Soviet citizens reached out to the “Western progressive press” to raise awareness about human rights issues in the USSR.

The book contributes greatly to the better understanding of the interface of state and society in the discussed historical period through the prism of obshchestvennost’ and civic agency. A great number of archival documents and new research is incorporated into the chapters, which creates a coherent whole, but each chapter can be read on its own too. From the perspective of conceptual history, however, one is left with a vague feeling of incompleteness. On the one hand, some chapters, especially chapters 3, 4, and 9, emphasize the reconstruction of the conceptual history of obshchestvennost’ and provide sufficient evidence at the textual level on the use and the meaning of the concept in a certain historical moment while discussing the larger sociocultural context as well. This focus on the historical use of the term is not so strong in some of the chapters where obshchestvennost’ is applied as an analytical term to investigate certain phenomena, and it is not clear how the concept relates to the discursive and semantic field of the respective periods. We can find references to dictionaries and encyclopedias in some of these chapters, which is an important starting point, but it should be complemented with textual analysis of other sources from the period to arrive at a more complete picture. Chapters in the book present strong cases for recognizing and identifying various phenomena as manifestations of civic agency, public opinion, or imagined community, but the link to the conceptual history of obshchestvennost’ is not always crystal clear.

The collection covers a truly admirable scope of topics, and the chapters can serve as reference for scholars of various fields: art history, gender studies, labor history, or history of medicine, to mention only a few. One aspect that is missing and could enrich the discussion is the role of religion in questions of obshchestvennost’. The analysis of religion in the interface of state and society would be especially important in the imperial period, but late socialism could also be studied from this perspective. For instance, recent research has shown that several members of the clergy were committed to social engagement and organized temperance movements and other groups among workers as a social outreach program. Furthermore, after 1905, members of religious intelligentsia identified religion as a progressive power that could lead to the rejuvenation of Russia. Several intellectuals were engaged in public debates about the need to create a “Christian obshchestvennost’,” a Christian public sphere and sociality. These are only a couple examples of how complementing similar research with the religious aspect can enhance our understanding of civic agency and the public sphere in Russian history.

The book is a significant contribution to the literature on state and society in modern imperial and Soviet Russia. It addresses many themes to which earlier works did not pay enough attention and opens the way for uncharted areas of research. It provides important insights in particular to the complexity of the relationship of state and society in Soviet Russian times. Findings, however, also have implications for questions of contemporary governmentality and civil society in Central and Eastern Europe in general. Furthermore, the book adds new episodes to the intricate history of obshchestvennost’ while showing some of the challenges one must face when writing the history of this versatile and resilient concept of Russian history.


Vadim Volkov, “Obshchestvennost’: Russia’s Lost Concept of Civil Society,” in Civil Society in the Baltic Sea Region, ed. Norbert Götz and Jörg Hackmann (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), 63–74.


Ibid., 65.

The History of German Ideas of the West

Riccardo Bavaj and Martina Steber, eds., Germany and “the West”: The History of a Modern Concept (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015), 328 pp.

Since the Cold War, the 11 September 2001 attacks, and the Iraq War (2003–2011), the West has been troubled with doubts about its identity and even its existence. It has been argued that a transatlantic rift has divided the West in two: Europe and the United States, with distinct cultures, values, and play-books of politics. Or is there perhaps just one West, consisting of the world’s only superpower, the United States?1 Hand in hand with this self-searching, studies have proliferated that discuss the West as a concept, narrative, (imagined/real) community, and an actor in world politics. We have seen critical studies, studies treating the West as a social construction, and the surfacing of a framework called Occidentalism. Riccardo Bavaj and Martina Steber’s contribution to this still unsettled tradition is an impressive edited volume dedicated to the history and analysis of the German concept of the West. As established scholars of German and transnational political history, and with a track record of exploring the conceptual history of the West,2 Bavaj and Steber are right in their element putting together this book.

The stated research questions of the volume are to find out what are, and have been, the shifting meanings of the West in the cultural, political, social, and intellectual history of Germany and, in turn, what the discourses of the Wesf can reveal about German history. Moreover, the authors ask how the idea of the West has been used in identity politics and where Germany is situated in the mental map encompassing the West. The book aims to problematize and historicize the master narrative of Germany, first deviating from the West for centuries, being in the middle between the East and West, so to speak, and then finally fully arriving there after the reunification of the country in 1990 (for example, 2, 14, 19, 22).

The book is divided into five parts and seventeen chapters. In addition, the book includes a comprehensive introduction providing a general overview of the fluctuating history of the concept in German political discourse from the nineteenth century up to the present day. In this introduction, Bavaj and Steber cover historical and intellectual contexts such as social Darwinism, colonialism, nationalism, and the Cold War, and they discuss concepts that have been related to the idea of the West such as race, democracy, parliamentarism, constitutionalism, progress, civilization, and materialism. These discussions are further elaborated in the first part of the book, which serves as a chronological history of German ideas of the West.

The subsequent parts are thematically constructed and discuss the concept in liberal thought, nationalist and conservative thought, socialist thought, and texts focusing on the relations between East and West. The division is logical, but for the cohesion of the book, it would have perhaps been better to integrate the articles making up the part “East-West Entanglements” with the other parts, since East-West opposition crops up persistently there too.

The guiding ideas and methods of the volume are inspired by historical semantics, Begriffsgeschichte, and the Koselleckian notion of the Sattelzeit (7, 11). Yet, as Bernhard Struck notes, geographical or spatial concepts, such as the East and the West, are entirely absent from the volumes of the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe (GG). This is despite the fact that, Struck continues, such concepts have been basic concepts in political language and discourse ever since the nineteenth century. Struck’s hypotheses on the reasons for their absence is not only an interesting read, but it also sheds light on the history of the GG project (43–44). According to the methodological choices, the volume promises a focus “on the lexical manifestations of the West (der Westen, westlich, westlerisch and so on), including their relations to neighbouring concepts such as Abendland and Okzident” (7).

Commitment to terminological and conceptual detail manifests itself in, for example, Denis Sdvižkov’s chapter on the convergences and mutual influences of Russian and German ideas of the West during the nineteenth century. Riccardo Bavaj also pays close attention to concepts and words in his chapter on Ernst Fraenkel’s (1898–1975) use of the concept Western democracy. Bavaj traces Fraenkel’s explicit mentions of the concept through time, contemplates Fraenkel’s speech acts and musings about the concept, and contextualizes his analysis against the historical and intellectual currents of the day (183–184, 187–192). Similarly, in his chapter on the German left-wing intellectuals’ discourse on bridge building between the East and the West during the postwar era, Dominik Geppert explores the changing meanings attributed to the concept, and its frequent and explicit use in arguments. Geppert also charts out ideas associated with the concept as well as relevant contexts for interpretation, such as the Cold War, personal war experiences, and religious views (262–264, 267–271).

This commitment makes Germany and “the West” a valuable contribution to the study of the concept of the West. First, the book makes the history of the German concept and thought available for English-speaking readers, who, thus far, have had to settle for passing references to Oswald Spengler (18801936) or the civilization/Kultur debate. And second, there is also an effort to clarify the distinctions between the German concepts of Europe, the Occident (der Okzident/das Abendland), and the West. These three concepts are not only distinct but sometimes contradictory. The editors, together with the writers Mark Hewitson and Thomas Rohkrämer, point out that this is something that easily gets lost in translation. For example, Oswald Spengler preferred to use the terms “Occident” and “Western Europe” rather than “the West,” which was spatially too open and universalistic for his taste. Hence, the translation of the title of his famous treatise Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918/1922) as The Decline of the West is misleading. The same holds true for Max Weber, whose central concept was Occidental rationalism instead of Western rationalism, and for Martin Heidegger, for whom the Occident represented the admirable cultural tradition emanating from classical Greece while the West was a derogatory term. And yet, in English, Heidegger’s Occident has been translated as the West (20–23, 55, 210).

However, the methodological premises are not consistently carried out throughout the volume. At times, concepts seem to become muddled, and the distinct concepts of Europe and Occident, or certain nation-states, are taken for straightforward synonyms of the West. In one chapter, for example, France and Britain are discussed in the primary sources, but these two are taken for the West, because they were “nations later labelled ‘the West’” (204). But labeled by whom? Occasionally, it is difficult to distinguish when the concept emerges from the primary sources, when from the research literature, and when it is actually the construct of the writer. Does “the West” with quotation marks indicate that the concept arises out of the primary sources, or that the concept is being problematized? If the concept comes from the primary sources, then longer quotes and examples clarifying the fact would have been welcome throughout the book. And what about the concept without quotation marks—does this refer to a West that exists in the real world? If the writers perceive the West as a tangible and concrete whole, the reader would like to know what kind of a whole it is in their opinion—geographical, political, cultural, or maybe historical?

In some chapters, the concept of the West is rarely—if at all—invoked in the primary sources (for example, 61, 153, 216–219, 249–250), which seems to betray the basic motivation for the volume: to write a history of the concept. This inevitably brings us to the discussion of absences. While it is true, as Benjamin Schröder argues, that the numerical presence of a term in a corpus of texts does not in itself disclose the importance or insignificance of the term in political or intellectual speech (142), one does anticipate a central term to come up in the sources. It is also fairly safe to say that an idea can be evoked without an explicit reference to a corresponding term, but this too presupposes that the term is in use and is understood to hold this specific meaning. Likewise, the explicit use of the concept of the East may imply the idea of the West as its counterpart, but just as well it could be that the opposition the intellectuals were thinking of was, in fact, Germany. Frank Lorenz Müller points out that absences can be just as revealing as profuse use of a concept (153), but for an absence to be revealing, there needs to be a convincing case that in this specific time, place, and discourse, one would expect to find the concept.

The volume thus alternates between texts in which the concept is the object of the study and texts in which the concept is the frame, or starting point of the study. Or, in other words, there are chapters in which the concept is problematized, and chapters that seem to rather uphold and consolidate the idea. Nevertheless, the book is an erudite account of both the concept of the West and German political thinking during the past centuries. And as such, it is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in conceptual, intellectual, and political history. After reading the book, the idea of the West remains as elusive as ever, but we are a lot wiser about the manifold meanings and uses this concept can have.


Christopher Browning and Marko Lehti, “Introduction: New Tensions in a Troubled Partnership,” in The Struggle for the West: A Divided and Contested Legacy, ed. Christopher Browning and Marko Lehti (London: Routledge, 2010), 1–11, here 2–3; Jan Ifversen, “Who Are the Westerners?” International Politics 45, no. 3 (2008): 236–253, here 237, 243–244, doi:10.1057/palgrave.ip.8800167; Wilfried Martens, “Editorial: The Future of the West,” European View 9, no. 2 (2010): 129–131, here 129–130, doi:0.1007/s12290–010-0147-x.


Riccardo Bavaj, “‘The West’: A Conceptual Exploration,” European History Online (21 November 2011),

Citizens, Nationals, Subjects?

Lauren Banko, The Invention of Palestinian Citizenship, 1918—1947 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 278 pp.

Citizenship is one of the key concepts for democracy and the subject of intense academic and political debates today. Combining sources both vertically and horizontally, Lauren Banko’s study presents a historical narrative of a political and administrative project of constructing the Palestinian polity with the concepts of citizenship and nationality at its core. The nexus of empirical evidence is constructed by citing a set of central theorists of citizenship and nationality, a wide range of documents, and a number of legal actions convincingly. Inviting viewpoints on citizenship and nationality, colonialism, twentieth-century history, and conceptual history, the book reaches out to scholars from various fields. Despite the range of perspectives, the story line develops fluently, and the angles of the British colonial officials, the Palestinian Arab leaders, or the international political framework, for example, provide a coherent narrative.

At the heart of Banko’s analysis are conceptual contestations, their expressions, and historical implications in the history of Palestine and Israel. Arguing for more problematized, politicized, and multilayered concepts of citizenship and nationality, the book is structured by combining changes of perspectives with chronology. The main groups under scrutiny are “the native, largely Arabic-speaking population of Palestine” and the British officials in charge of the policies in Palestine (14). The story is embedded in “a particular, colonial interwar context” (2) in which the conditions and political aspirations of the “mandate citizens,” as they are called throughout the book, is reflected alongside the British authorities and other international actors. The author maintains that the previous research has overlooked the struggle for the concept of citizenship and, subsequently, its multidimensionality. This goes, according to the author, especially for “the origins and definitions of Palestinian civic and political identity during the years of the mandate” (2), as well as the “practical application of this principle of nationality in the Levant” (4).

Most of the primary sources are paraphrased into the text, with only few direct quotes, and the original terms are provided for key terms and concepts. The corpus consists of texts both in English and in Arabic, which raises the issue of translation. The author notes that the terms “nationality” and “citizenship” are often used interchangeably in Arabic by the Palestinian Arab leadership, and even the key terms were not subject to consistent terminology (15). In her research, Banko relies on contextualization and the mapping of a wider conceptual framework when translating her key concepts, which seems to be a successful strategy for constructing her argument.

The differentiation between the concepts of citizenship and nationality forms the backbone along which the examples from the empirical evidence are structured. From a conceptual historical point of view, this differentiation is quite useful for Banko’s argument, and the reasons for doing so are well established and embedded in the case selection and the material. As for the further choices of former research and analytical tools, the reader is left with rather brief remarks. This is true especially for the usage of the communitarian notion of citizenship and the emphasis on the idea of political belonging, which are mainly dealt with in chapter 3 (55–83). Albeit the choice is smoothly incorporated into the text, which ensures a well-built narrative, the communitarian (perhaps also the liberal and republican) argument could have been more deeply rooted in the ideological and political history of the ideas and concepts of citizenship, if only to situate the communitarian concept of citizenship more strongly for a reader less familiar with theories and histories of citizenship. This is perhaps primarily a question of explication and could be dismissed as a casualty of the construction of an empirically based and neatly tied argument, but from a citizenship theory perspective, the narrative surely would have endured a slightly extended discussion on the matter.

As a guiding thread “influencing” the research project (5) and concerning citizenship, Banko uses Engin Isin’s notion of “making citizens.” This approach emphasizes the processes instead of mere legal acts or top-down status creations through which citizenship can be realized. The choice is fitting with the empirical sources and emphasizes the wider understanding of citizenship, especially combined with nationality. The case at hand, Palestine under the mandate system governed by Great Britain, is an example of a political “experiment,” as the author also calls it (chapter 8’s title, 196), where citizenship is both imposed and claimed. Other examples of colonial practices and policies are referred to in the book as the imperial framework, in which the Palestinian case was embedded. The process-oriented approach captures the tension between the attempted imposition and claims, allowing Banko to stress the importance of the grassroots, community-based developments.

The grassroots developments and the claims for their recognized nationality are situated and contextualized through the Palestinian Arab diaspora. This very much involves the questions of emigration, immigration, and, specifically for the Arabs who emigrated in this case, the “right to return.” Together, as is demonstrated in the book, these questions raise the issue of community and belonging (for example, 92–95). As has been witnessed again and again in international politics—for example, in post-World War II Germany—the redrawing of state boundaries causes displacements in many ways, and the boundaries dividing and redefining populations effectively challenge the legal and political imagination of the administrators in charge. In the Palestinian case, the officials of Great Britain failed, Banko argues, in their recognition of the fact that “the members of diaspora communities believed themselves to be citizens of Palestine” (95) and managed only to draft a set of confusing and inconsistent practices and policies for obtaining Palestinian citizenship.

The interplay between citizenship based on jus soli or jus sanguinis also plays a central role in the story as it, according to the definitions the author relies on, marks the relationship between citizenship and nationality, or between demos and ethnos. The question of who should be granted citizenship through naturalization or by opting for citizenship, based on their Ottoman heritage in this case, for example, refers to the problem of defining the limits and conditions for citizenship in the legal sense. As was the case in Northern Ireland, the question is whether the polity as such is considered a legitimate political entity and worthy of recognition: just like part of the population in the newly defined Ulster in Northern Ireland, the Palestinian administrative polity under the mandate was hardly the desired reference point because it was the polity that was the preferred choice. This was recognized in a report by the Palestine Royal Commission of 1937 (169), as Banko shows, but she also demonstrates how this was the case for a significant number of Jewish immigrants who chose not to naturalize earlier in the 1920s. While the reasons for refusing Palestinian citizenship varied, each case emphasizes the difficulties of the administrative solutions and the complexity of citizenship as an administrative tool.

One of the main conclusions of Banko’s narrative is that, as she puts it in her final paragraph, “colonial, or mandate, citizenship was imposed upon, and experienced by, Arabs and Jews in Palestine unequally” (214). This statement is demonstrated through a range of examples on how the mandate administration interpreted the guidelines for naturalization, or how the Palestinian Arab sentiment and drive to realize their nationality as citizenship was not acknowledged. This also includes the problem of representation. Representative institutions were never really created for facilitating distinctiveness even though the differentiation between the Palestinian Arabs and Jews became reality. Cases such as this, or that of Northern Ireland, show the importance of structuring representative institutions carefully for implementing various nationalities and cultures under one citizenship regime with full political rights. Banko’s analysis reveals the mistakes, as one could call them based on this analysis, of the British and international administrators of failing to design such institutions for Palestine.

The conceptual struggles for legal, political, and cultural recognition and the claims for self-determination are well illuminated in the text. The discourses and conceptual shifts are presented with close links to historical events, which shows how the concepts, arguments, and events resonate back and forth. Banko illustrates how, at the time of intensified violence and protests, “the rhetoric that emphasised political rights to representation or civil rights to economic assistance, for example, became associated with expressions of discontent with the mandate such as strikes and protests that peasants and the urban labourers attended” (173). In this discussion, she also points to how socioeconomic classes were drawing closer discursively, thus intensifying the pressure toward Great Britain and its policies.

The Palestinian case, as Banko shows it, is a wonderful example of just how magnificent the political potential of citizenship is as a legal and, most importantly, political instrument. For better or worse, it can be used to create and shift inclusions and exclusions, power relations, rights, activities, recognitions, and interpretations—all of which construct conditions for agency and subjectivity. One of the dichotomies, which Banko discusses, is the one between “the citizens” and “the population” (explicitly 180–184). She argues that, once violence had broken out in Palestine, the British canceled “certain rights given to the Palestinian Arabs by treating them not as citizens of the mandate but rather as its colonized population” (180; emphasis in original). This meant that even the smallest steps of granting both Arabs and Jews gradual political rights by 1935 were now taken away, leaving differentiation between Palestinian citizenship and British colonial subjecthood “muddled” (181). Thus, the agency of the inhabitants in the territory was being controlled without providing the sufficient forums, institutions, or policies for full political and cultural subjectivity.

Banko’s analysis is an important example of the interchange, and the tension, between the institutional imposition of citizenship and the bottom-up claims of representation and a recognized part in the polity’s constellation. There are numerous possibilities for foci of choice in the study, but most certainly one of the keys is the insistence on the multidimensionality of citizenship. This can be seen in the concluding statement of the book—namely, that what was sketched for the mandated citizens was “not a citizenship that they envisioned, nor was it for them” (214, emphasis in original). The study shows once again the complexity and the political potential of both the concept and the institution of citizenship in a quite persuasive way.

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