International Research School in Conceptual History and Political Thought

New Directions in the history of concepts
The 12th annual conference on the History of Concepts
London and Oxford, 17-19 September 2009

The 12th annual conference will be held in London and Oxford from the 17th to the 19th September 2009 and organised by HPSCG in cooperation with University College London, Centre for Political Ideologies at Oxford University, the Finnish Institute in London, the German Historical Institute in London, CENS in Helsinki, CoePolCon in Jyväskylä.

At the 12th annual conference of the HPSCG we intend to look back at the themes covered over the last ten years and focus on the new directions that has emerged in the study of the history of concepts. Some important themes have emerged over the years. We wish to investigate these themes closer and to discuss the empirical and methodological implications involved. The 12th annual conference will be organised around the following themes:

•    The transfer and translation of concepts from one region to the other and within regions.
Several conferences of the HPSCG have been dedicated to the investigation of which concepts travel and how they travel. The focus has been on transnational concepts suited for transfer (e.g. democracy, modernisation, civilisation, international law). The travel routes of the concepts through translations and the effects of concepts being inserted in different linguistic and cultural contexts have been discussed. The underlying relations of hegemony and asymmetry in these processes have been highlighted. We wish to continue the study of transnational concept, travel routes, translations and hegemonic relations and particularly to discuss the methodological and empirical problems involved.

•    Concepts in political and rhetoric.
The role of key political concepts in the process of political modernisation has been a prominent theme for the HPSCG since the beginning. At the 12th annual conference we would like to focus on how political communication, broadly speaking, produces conceptual changes. This involves investigating the formative role of ideologies and political rhetoric in forming concepts. The focus on ideology will include the explicit engineering of political concepts in totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.

•    Concepts in identity politics
Participants at the HPSCG conferences have shown a growing interest in studying the conceptual architecture of past and present identity politics. This has involved the study of a variety of auto-designators (e.g. people, nation, patriots), of asymmetrical counter-concepts (e.g. barbarian, despot, primitive) and of names (e.g. geographical names).  The rising importance of infra- and supra-national identity politics calls for more studies along these lines.

•    Concepts in international relations
In later years scholars of international relations have taken an interest in examining the role of key concepts and their history in the forming of global systems of international relations. This entails focusing on the development of an international language, including concepts, through which states and other political entities communicate with each other. Studies of the emergence and history of concepts such as friendship, war, international law, commerce, international community, human rights in different linguistic and cultural contexts have already been undertaken within the HPSCG.

•    Concepts, metaphors, images and monuments
From its start the history of concepts has included an interest in metaphors. The link between concepts and metaphors has been the object of constant theoretical and methodological debates. Concepts often connect with a pictoral semiotics through metaphors. The Amsterdam conference in 2002 was partly devoted to the presentation of studies linking concepts, images and monuments. We intend to continue along these lines at the 12th annual conference

•    Concepts of religion
Recent years have witnessed an overall growing interest in religious concept and in comparing the key concepts of world religions. Religion is an excellent field for highlighting similarities and differences in conceptual frameworks, e.g. between the various Christian religions or between Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Such meta-concepts as religion and secularism must themselves be open to critical scrutiny, not last by following their role in different cultural and historical contexts

•    Comparative,European, transnational and global conceptual history.
From being embedded in national cultures the history of concepts has in later years tried to
transgress these limits. Efforts have been conducted to undertake comparative studies at a
regional level (e.g. the Ibero-American and the Central European project). Larger supranational projects are being discussed (e.g. the Europaum project of a European conceptual history), and even global projects of comparing regions across the world are being launched. Projects of this range raise a multitude of methodological and empirical challenges that needs to be discussed.

•    New theoretical and methodological challenges
History of concepts as endorsed by the HPSCG developed in a fruitful dialogue between Begriffsgeschichte and the Cambridge school. Other sources of inspiration have been lingering in the periphery. It is time, however, to engage more directly in dialogues with neighbouring approaches and new fields. This could include engaging with Foucauldian genealogy, with a variety of linguistic approaches (text linguistics, text pragmatics, critical discourse analysis, argumentation analysis) and with new approaches within contextualism (e.g. new historicism).

Invited speakers:

Professor Emeritus Melvin Richter, New York
Professor Michael Freeden, Oxford
Senior Research Scholar Hans Erich Bödeker, Berlin
Professor Rolf Reichardt, Gießen
Professor Javier Fernández Sebastián, Bilbao
Professor Pim den Boer, Amsterdam
Professor Willibald Steinmetz, Bielefeld
Professor Jörn Leonhard, Freiburg
Professor Kari Palonen, Jyväskylä

The organising committee invites proposals for sessions and papers.


Submissions for applications to organize a session for the conference are invited. Interested individuals/groups should submit expressions of interest which include a synopsis of no more than 200 words outlining the duration, title, aims, and content of the proposed session.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Organizing Committee.
Presentations will be selected to provide a program that offers
comprehensive and diverse treatment of issues relating to the
conference theme.

Proposals must be sent to:

Director Henrik Stenius, or
Head of Department Jan Ifversen,



All participants interested in presenting a contribution relating to the themes proposed are kindly asked to submit a one-page abstract (max. 400 words.)

Abstracts must be sent to Director Henrik Stenius,


Closing date for receipt of abstracts: Monday, the 20th of July, 2009
Notification of acceptance of abstracts: Monday, the 3rd of August 2009
Registration forms and information about fee, hotels and venue will be available at the HPSCG website soon (