International Research School in Conceptual History and Political Thought

Beyond Classical Key Concepts -seminar is organized by CONCEPTA – International Research School in Conceptual History and Political Thought in collobration with department of history of political and social ideas and movements, faculty of political sciences and sociology in Complutense University of Madrid, Finnish Centre of Excellence in Political Thought and Conceptual Change, and Nordic Network for conceptual history sponsored by the Nordic Council of Ministers, with representatives from four Nordic universities. Also sponsored by Ekokem ltd.


Please, dowload the lates version of programme here. There is a change in wednesday session on the conceptual cluster “Information, knowledge, opinion, debate”. Also thursday dinner is replaced by visit to the Parliament.

Kari Palonen's keynote lecture can be downloaded from Jyväskylä University pages here.

NOTE: Bus is leaving to University on Wednesday 3rd, from the Hotel at 14.30 p.m.

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The seminar hotel is Hotel Tirol, Marqués de Urquijo street, no. 4. All participants, who are staying at hotel, are staying at this hotel. Hotel Tirol webpages.

How to reach from the Airport to Hotel Tirol:

Metro: from Airport to Nuevos Ministerios (line 8) –From Nuevos Ministerios to Alonso Martínez (line 10) –From Alonso Martinez to Argüelles (line 3).

How to reach the Faculty of Political Sciences (Somosaguas):

A bus transportation is arrenged, but in case you miss the official transportation, then walk from Hotel Tirol Princesa street until Moncloa. In Moncloa, take the Bus A (in the corner between Moncloa Square and Ruperto Chapí, Parque del Oeste). The University is the last stop.

The meeting room: "Sala de Juntas", 3rd floor in Political Sciences and Sociology Faculty.

Map of the Faculty.

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Keynote lectures:

J.f. Sebastián: Conceptual obsolescence and conceptual innovation at the beginning of the 21st century. Politics, technology, society
(Professor of the University of the Basque Country, Department of Constitutional Law and History of Social and Political Thought and Movements.)
Changes in political and social vocabulary and conceptual innovation occur incessantly around us, although we are seldom aware of it. On one hand, social changes encourage conceptual mutations: in order to encapsulate novel ways of life, recent inventions or devices, innovative approaches, methods and practices, we regularly need to coin new words and expressions, or invent new meanings for existing words. In short, we need to simultaneously conceptualise new experiences and to experience new concepts.

Moreover, accelerated changes in our societies cause rapid lexical obsolescence in certain sectors of the vocabulary, blur semantic boundaries between words, and stimulate the demand for new terms and new concepts. In recent decades several philosophers and social theorists have been using different labels, such as conceptos cadavéricos (J. Ortega y Gasset), mots spectres (E. Morin), shell institutions (A. Giddens), Zombi-Kategorien (U. Beck), etc., all of them referring to the increasing inaccuracy of traditional notions to cope with a world in dramatic transformation. The aim of my talk is to explore some of the most recent conceptual innovations and their dynamic. In doing so, I will also try to identify current trends in the evolution of vocabularies used nowadays for dealing with political and social issues.

Jan Ifversen: How to Study Key Concepts
(associate professor, Institute of History and Area Studies,Aarhus University)

The term key concept - Grundbegriff in German - was coined by the German historian Reinhart Koselleck as the object of study for the most prestigious project of conceptual history ever launched, the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland. The lexicon consists of entries to 115 key concepts which played a key role in forming modern German society. But how do we define and select key concepts for our analysis? Defining key concepts entails a theoretical and operational understanding of concepts and their place in language (semantics) and their role in language use (pragmatics). In semantics, concepts get their meaning from being located in semantic fields. But concepts are also formed by the communicative and institutional context of language use. Concepts form arguments in specific situations. They might be used in scientific or political arguments; they apper in everyday discourses. The theoretical and methodological claims put forward in this lecture will be tested on some case studies including the concepts of crisis, of civilisation and of terror.

Lene Hansen: Identity and Policy Discourse: Theory, Methodology and Research Design
(Associate Professor, Director of the Ph.d. Program, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen)

Taking foreign policy discourse as a case in point, this lecture discusses how one may theorize the significance of representations of Self and Other for how policies are legitimated. Using representations of "the Balkans", "Genocide" and "civilization" as illustrations, the significance of Otherness, but also its ambiguity is emphasized. The last part of the talk puts forward a series of methodological challenges that discourse analysis confronts, and suggests a series of guidelines through which to address them.

Kari Palonen: Making Sense of the Parliamentary Jargon
(Academy Professor, Political science, University of Jyväskylä)

It is a widespread fashion to regard parliamentary debates as boring and meaningless. One of the reasons for this is the use of a distinct parliamentary vocabulary, which is frequently denounced as a mere jargon. The current parliamentary websites offer to their readers “glossaries” of the parliamentary vocabulary in the style of dictionary definitions. Such definitions hardly increase the parliamentary literacy of lay readers, and even for MPs it may take time to learn to use the parliamentary jargon cleverly. Whey they do it, this offers for them a crucial power share inside the parliament.

The parliamentary vocabulary has, however, its historical origins in the English rhetoric of the Renaissance and in the struggle of the parliaments with monarchs and their courts. Concepts such as question, plenum, session, speaker, reading, committee, debate, quorum, adjournment or division have a specific significance, historically loaded meaning and distinct political point in the parliamentary context. Other concepts, such as bill, petition, motion, standing order, agenda, dissolution, filibuster, clotûre, interpellation, vote of no confidence or unparliamentary language have the parliament as their paradigmatic reference. Both types of concepts change, of course, in the course of history and may vary from parliament to parliament.

Documents of parliamentary procedure and glossaries of the parliamentary vocabulary are, however, interesting for scholars of rhetoric, conceptual history and the parliamentary style of politics. Starting from a simple comparison between glossaries of parliamentary vocabulary in Britain, France and Germany, the paper accentuates rhetorical disputes on parliamentary concepts, their histories and links to specific political struggles. The documents and literature of parliamentary procedure as well as rhetorical strategies of conceptual change in the parliamentary debate will be used to accentuate “lost treasures” of parliamentary politics. The minute changes in the parliamentary vocabulary simultaneously allude to crucial political changes in the broader set of concepts, such as representation, mandate, deliberation and parliamentarism itself.

Kerstin Stenius: The  “Addictionary” project: Nomenclature, Terminology and Conceptual History in Addiction Science
(Ph.D. and guest professor at the Centre for Social research on Alcohol and Drugs, Stockholm University, Sweden)

This paper will present the rationale behind and organisation of a recently started international project which has as its general goal a more distinct and conscious use of concepts and terminology and better international communication in the increasingly internationalised and multidisciplinary addiction science. 

Addictive substances and behaviours interpreted as signs of addictions exist all over the world. There are forceful economic and political interests surrounding many of the addictions and addictions are not rarely linked to social control of various behaviours. Most cultures have a rich everyday vocabulary around alcohol, drugs, tobacco and other addictive behaviours. Addiction concepts can have their roots in medicine, in the legal and administrative languages, in religion, economy and mundane language. The concepts are used in various ways by different actors: the industry, activists, researchers, consumers, international public health organisations, the general public, clients etc. Concepts and terms of addiction are contested and related to power positions, they are in constant flux, some concepts are so contextually specific that they do not translate into other languages  and the same word can have several meanings simultaneously.

This project would specifically attempt to understand were various central terms and concepts in the addiction field come from, what political functions they serve, how they help or hinder communication, and why some terms achieve dominance during certain historical periods.  Another goal is to stimulate dialogue across linguistic and cultural borders, to develop a deeper  understanding for the problems of translation, including discussions of the role of English as the lingua franca of research, but also to coordinate efforts to clarify terminology within the scientific field.

Johan Edman:  What’s in a name? Alcohol and drug treatment and the politics of confusion
(Ph.D. and researcher at the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRAD), Stockholm University, Sweden.)

What constitutes a pathological condition? Or rather, how does a phenomenon become pathological? If this isn’t exclusively the result of medical judgement (and I will argue that it’s not), what other reasons could there be for a set of actions suddenly being described in medical terms? And what are the consequences?

In this paper I investigate a field of activities that occasionally has been described in medical terms, namely the use or misuse of alcohol and drugs. More precisely, this study (a part of the “Addictionay” project presented by Kerstin Stenius) looks into the medicalisation of alcohol and drug treatment in Sweden during the 20th century.

In the empirical examination undertaken I will try to answer questions about how certain phenomenon suddenly becomes part of a semantic or conceptual field. Here, I will analyse the rapprochement between alcohol and drug treatment and the semantic field of medicine. I will also investigate the political ambitions behind this process as well as the consequences for the clients of the treatment carried out under a new name.

Shigehisa Kuriyama: Rethinking Crisis – the Life of Money and the Afflictions of the Body
(Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History, Dept. of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard)
Talk of financial crisis currently pervades the news. But for the greater part of history, crisis was first and above all a medical concept. Taking this concept as my starting point, I shall explore the surprisingly deep ties between the comparative history of the body and the imagination of money, and argue that these ties compel us to scrutinize more carefully the entwining of conceptual history with the history of embodied feeling.

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UPDATE: Beyond Classical Key Concepts -seminar, Madrid 3. – 5.12.2008 Over 40 people from 12 different countries are taking part in Beyond Classical Key Concepts -seminar in Madrid 3. – 5.12.2008. Please, note that the place has changed and accordingly there is no need for the bus transportation on 2.12.2008. We thank you for the large interest in the seminar. Due to the great amount of applications received, only a part of applications arrived by the deadline were accepted. Applicants have been informed about the results.

Beyond Classical Key Concepts is organized by CONCEPTA – International Research School in Conceptual History and Political Thought in collobration with department of history of political and social ideas and movements, faculty of political sciences and sociology in Complutense University of Madrid, Finnish Centre of Excellence in Political Thought and Conceptual Change, and Nordic Network for conceptual history sponsored by the Nordic Council of Ministers, with representatives from four Nordic universities. Also sponsored by Ekokem ltd.

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Research Training Seminar in Madrid Spain. 3-5 December 2008

There is a growing awareness of the need to contextualise and analyse the different uses of concepts that are ideologically loaded but do not live their lives in the immediate core of political theory. New words are entering the political and social language. One can only think of such words as “management” (which is new in a political context) and “health” not to mention “terrorism” and “climate change”.
This workshop will move beyond classical key concepts in two ways. It will study the emergence of new political concepts or the transfer of concepts from traditional locations to new politicized ones, and it will extend conceptual analysis to areas where it has not been practised before. The seminar gives students an opportunity to present papers related to their research as well as to receive comments from CONCEPTA Board members and invited scholars.

Papers on concepts belonging to following conceptual clusters are especially welcomed:

1. Other, foreigner, normality
2. Health, sickness, treatment
3. Economics, markets, consumer, nature, environment
4. Information, knowledge, opinion, debate
5. Geographical proper names

Papers on methodological issues are also welcome. Course is multidisciplinary but papers that have a linguistic approach are preferred. There will also be  special Latin American Workshop on Conceptual History.

Please send your application together with the abstract (max. one page) and a short cover letter explaining how you may benefit from the seminar in your further studies or work to: Sami Syrjämäki: [email protected]; Nere Basabe:

Deadline for applications September 25, 2008. The results will be announced in early October. Final papers should be sent to organizers by November 15, 2008.

Keynote speakers: Johan Edman, Lene Hansen, Jan Ifversen, Shigehisa Kuriyama, Kari Palonen, Javier Fernández Sebastián and Kerstin Stenius

Organisers: CONCEPTA – International Research School in Conceptual History and Political Thought,Department of history of political and social ideas and movements, faculty of political sciences and sociology, Complutense University of Madrid, sponsored by the Nordic Council of Ministers, with representatives from four Nordic universities. Aslo sponored by Ekokem ltd.

Registration: free
Accommodation in the student house: free
Travel grants: A number of travel grants will be available to contribute towards students’ travel expenses. Although, students should be aware that these grants might not cover full costs. Those wishing to apply for a travel grant should indicate this in their applications.

Contacts: Evgeny Roshchin [email protected]; Sami Syrjämäki: [email protected]; Nere Basabe:

1. Others, foreigner, normality

In all societies some people are constructed as ’others,’ as somehow deviant, and categorised according to that ‘deviancy’ by more powerful groups. Those constructed as ‘others’ might be ethnic or religious minority groups, people with certain disabilities or considered deviant on the basis of some other (perceived or real) characteristic. But even people constituting numerical majorities – notably women – might be ‘othered’ due to the power-relations of a society.

In the process of “othering” conceptualisation plays a crucial role. The ‘others’ are categorised and labelled, sometimes derogatively. The concepts referring to the particular groups are related to other concepts in specific ways, not the least to concepts referring to the more powerful groups, such as the majority ethnic population of a country. In emancipatory processes naming and conceptualisation often play an important role when people either claim the right to be referred to with terms that reflect their self-image rather than reflecting how they are seen by other groups, or when they take previously derogative labels and ‘reload’ them.

We welcome contributions that deal with the conceptualisation, categorisation, and labelling of groups in precarious social situations in any society, with counter-strategies used by these groups, and with conceptual change. The concepts analysed might refer to groups of people but also to other entities appearing in discourses centred on these groups. In a discourse on people with learning disabilities, for example, such concepts as mental development, intelligence, and normalcy might be crucial. Many different concepts might be of interest in the empirical studies. Among them are concepts referring to ethnicity, religious belonging, immigration, sexuality, mental and physical (dis)abilities, gender, indigenousness, age, and social status. The study of these concepts might intersect with the Foucaultian approach to the formation of concepts and the analyses of the perverse, body, and discipline, as well as with the variety of securitization studies.

2. Health, sickness, treatment

Health, sickness and treatment belong to a cluster of concepts with one anchorage in the language of science. This does not, however, hinder the concepts from being  contested. 

The vocabulary of health is also anchored in other social practices. The concepts are used in various professions safeguarding their own prestige, as well as by social and political actors in their power games. It is not uncommon that one person combines these three roles and thus mixes the three different languages.

In addition, the vocabulary of health has its everyday (democratic, in Koselleckian terms) variations and manifestations. Every person has his/her ideas about what health is, often only partly articulated, mixing scientific context with private moralising thinking concerning the casual connections of health-giving. The workshop welcomes papers discussing the relation between the everyday and the scientific uses of the concept of health with the basic assumption that the dependencies are not a one way communication. One important aspect in this struggle for definition is power; the hegemonic aspirations of medical expertise, who avoid distributing their knowledge to other actors, like nurses. One controversial aspect of the popular uses of the concepts of health is the tendency in contemporary western societies to define the concept of health/fitness as a virtue/obligation, thereby creating attitudes according to which unhealthy persons are seen as morally inferior.   

The seminar welcomes papers from medical as well as administrative, political and everyday discourses in contemporary as well as pre-modern periods. The workshop wants to integrate a long-term perspective, integrating the fact that in pre-modern Europe the dichotomy between sick and healthy denoted not only the state of being sick and the state of being not sick, but also a state of neutrum between the sick and not sick. One red thread in the history of the concepts in this particular semantic field consists of all the efforts to define the delineation between knowledge/science and magic. Not least the history of stigmatisation shows how powerful the medical vocabulary can be.

The seminar welcomes papers focusing on terms which are critical to communication in this semantic field, terms that have generated disagreements and struggle over definitions. How are the terms organised in the field of medical and socio-medical, especially in relation to the history of scientific terminology, classification and diagnostic systems? In particular, how are the concepts contested and appropriated by policymaking agents among professionals and politicians? To what extent can we detect terms that are so context-bounded and specific, that they are impossible to translate directly to other languages?  

3. Economics, markets, consumer, nature, environment

It is often said that economics are taking over politics. Sometimes this is claimed to be a shift from ideological politics to non-ideological practices. In the centre of the economic discussions we find concepts such as innovation, ownership, social responsibility and trade barrier among more classical concepts of GNP, markets, productivity, scarcity, needs, consumer etc. These economic concepts do have a history and are put to ideological use very much in the same manner as more obviously political concepts, even though they often are presented as the opposite of them. They all have a history of changes and are used in various meanings depending on the context and who is using them.

Economical concepts often stand in close relation to environmental concepts. Perhaps they do so more today than ever before, with the issue of climate change taking over a very large part of the political discussions; an issue concerning the whole world with significant economical implications. Concepts like nature, environment, natural resources, human alteration, environmental disaster, development and even climate change, are under continuous contestation. Besides the obvious conceptual battlegrounds, another kind of conceptualising process is taking place: e.g. “global warming “ is becoming a brand and is sold in the form of souvenir mugs and t-shirts. Thus environmentalist vocabulary becomes appropriated by the profit-seeking market agents.

The ideological conceptualisation of these concepts plays a crucial role in national and global political discussions even though these discussions may be presented as discussions concerning only scientific data.

The seminar welcomes contributions on concepts mentioned above and related concepts.

4. Information, knowledge, opinion, debate

We are said to live in a “Global Information Society”. Knowledge has always been a source of power in itself, and the recent development of new technologies has completely altered the increasing influence of media in politics. The traditional role of the press as a “fourth power” seems to be contested, or at least re-elaborated by new practices. These new practices involve a whole new vocabulary which has become commonly used, affecting the meaning of traditional concepts.

We seek/ are looking for papers dealing with all the above topics and their semantic aspects: What is Information/Misinformation (propaganda, advertising)? How does an eventbecome “news?” How does the Media become not a means but an end in itself? How does Communication emerge as the issue at stake in the core of the political debate? How has the Internet changed the connotation/relevance/ of all these terms?

Very closely related to the debate on Information, Knowledge and Communication, is the task of Education, and the continuous struggle to redefine it (as opposed to instruct or to indoctrinate, its main counter-concepts).

5. Geographical concepts

It is well-known that conceptualisation of space and territory is very important for any political and social thinking. In his effort to ground conceptual history in a grander anthropological theory Reinhart Koselleck, the founder of Begriffsgeschichte, emphasized that spatial demarcation was one of the metahistorical conditions configuring human activity. The importance of spatiality and territoriality was, however, not mirrored in the actual carrying out of conceptual history as witnessed in the monumental lexicon of Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Apart from the implicit territoriality in political concepts denoting regimes and governments such as union, state and empire, there is little to be found. Concepts such as territory or geopolitics do not appear in the lexicon. Geographers have been aware for a long time that our spatial imagination is dependent on concept and categories. As the show we need to study the metageography at play in geographical ordering. Bringing in metageography in the study of political and social concepts could really further the understanding of spatiality and territoriality in political and social thinking. The study of geographical concepts and names will include other semantic fields. Territoriality and space is related to state power and politics in the field of geopolitics. The complex meaning of place names such as Europe, Asia or the Orient must be studied with a ‘geocultural’ field. The interest for the geopolitics – invented as a realist or cynical study of the conditions of power more than a century ago – has risen within recent years not least due to the challenges that globalisation poses to our spatial imagination. The same can be said about geoculture which is prominent in the many efforts to conduct transnational identity politics.

This seminar welcomes papers on the conceptual linking of geography with politics, society and culture. Papers can be on metageographical concepts, on concepts in geopolitics or on particular place names.