The History of Political Thought: Its State and Its Stakes

April 15th-16th, 2011
Kerstetter Room, 301 Marx Hall

RSVP to Kim Girman, to attend conference

Friday, April 15th:

9:15 a.m. Welcome and Introductory Remarks:

Jan-Werner Müller, Princeton University

9:30 a.m. 'After Cambridge'? Comfortable Pluralism or Complacent Eclecticism?

Chair: Jan-Werner Müller, Princeton University
Opening Statement: Warren Breckman, Penn

Michael Frazer, Harvard
Martin van Gelderen, EUI, Florence
Alan Ryan, Princeton University

There's a sense (at least among some of us) that controversy about methods in the history of political thought has considerably decreased in recent years. Cambridge versus Lovejoy, Strauss versus Skinner, Bielefeld versus Cambridge, etc. -- is it a good thing to be beyond these rather polarized positions? Or is it in fact problematic – and potentially reactionary, as critics might say – that a more or less well-articulated contextualism (or methodological pluralism) seems to have become the default position for studying the history of political thought?

1:00 p.m. Is the Battle all There Is? Genealogy and Counter-History

Chair: John Borneman, Princeton University
Opening Statement: Mark Bevir, Berkeley

Zeev Emmerich, Cambridge
Carole Greenhouse, Princeton University

Arguably genealogy is one of the most over-used terms in the self-presentation of both historians and political theorists these days – not least because it seems automatically to signal a critical stance. But how much of what is presented as genealogy can actually credibly be described as such? Is demonstrating contingency necessarily progressive? And does genealogy have to include an attempt at transvaluing values…?

3:15 p.m. Break

3:30 p.m. Beyond Concepts and Discourses? Framing Inquiry

Chair: Daniel Garber, Princeton University
Opening Statement: Balazs Trencsenyi, CEU, Budapest

Chiara Bottici, New School
Marci Shore, Yale
Emma Winter, Columbia

What ought to be the objects of study in the history of political thought? How do we know what a 'context' is? What is living (if anything at all) and what is dead in the concept of 'ideology'? How helpful are 'imagination' and 'social imaginary' in understanding the history of political thought? And can the history of political thought receive important impulses from other areas of study? The history of mentalities? The history of emotions?

Saturday, April 16th:

9:30 a.m. Ideas and Institutions: On the History of Political Thought and Legal/Political History

Chair: Hendrik Hartog, Princeton University
Opening Statement: Judith Surkis, Harvard and IAS, Princeton University

Tim B. Müller, Hamburg Institute for Social Research
Timothy Snyder, Yale
Eric Weitz, Minnesota and Princeton University

Does the study of ideas and institutions necessarily have to demonstrate 'influence'? Can we do without a well-formulated notion of 'power' in examining ideas and institutions? How, if at all, should innovations in the study of law affect the study of the history of political thought? And how, ideally, are we to conceive the history of political ideas after linguistic, cultural, etc. turns…?

1:15 p.m. Comparative, Transnational, Global… Histories of Political Thought – Why and How?

Chair: Susan Karr, Princeton University
Opening Statement: David Armitage, Harvard

Karuna Mantena, Yale
Anne Norton, Penn
Duncan Kelly, Cambridge

How does international intellectual history relate to the emerging field of comparative political theory? Is the latter necessarily progressive? Are the dangers of reification and presentism particularly grave in this area? Has the study of the history of political thought not always been in some sense comparative? And can there be a genuinely global history of political thought?

3:45 p.m. 'Presentism', or: Historiography as Political Theory?

Chair:Jan-Werner Müller, Princeton University
Opening Statement: Samuel Moyn, Columbia

John P. McCormick, Chicago
Melissa Lane, Princeton University

How, if at all, does the study of the history of political thought relate to present-day normative theorizing? As a service industry to point the way to 'lost treasures' of political thinking? Can we truly be 'alienated' from present-day contexts and step away from our most fundamental assumptions about social and political life? What exactly is wrong with a self-consciously antiquarian approach to the history of political thought?