Biographies of Concepts in the Human and Social Sciences

When: Mar 19 – Mar 20, 2015
Where: Stephens Hall, Doreen Townsend Center for the Humanities and Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society

Please register by sending an email to and to get access to pre-circulated papers!

Link to shared folder with papers: (password required)

This two-day symposion brings together a number of international scholars who will explore the history of concepts in the humanities and social science. The focus will be on the emergence, migration, dissemination, and disappearance of concepts, ultimately aiming at a theory of what might be called the "death" and "afterlife" of concepts. Ever since the seminal work of Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem, the history of concepts has played an important role for a critical history of rationality and history of science at large.

Path-breaking studies on concepts like probability and objectivity have not only refined the methodological framework within historical epistemology but shown the importance of such an approach. The focus on the relation between language and intellectual practices has been accompanied by a novel understanding of knowledge-production in the respective fields. We are looking to initiate a discussion about the potential of this approach for the history of the human and social sciences.



Please, note changes to the original program!

Thursday, March 19 (Townsend Center, Geballe Room)

9-9.30 AM Mario Wimmer (Berkeley): Writing histories of concepts

9.30-10.30 AM Hélène Mialet (Davis): The History and Limits of the Actor-Network Concept
Respondent: Mario Biagioli

11-12 AM Benjamin Wurgaft (Cambridge, Mass.): A Meditation on Canguilhem's Concept of the Cell: Vitality in and out of Cartesian Vats
Respondent: Jonathan Sheehan


1.30-2.30 PM Niklas Olsen (Copenhagen): The Concept of the Consumer in Neoliberal Political Thought
Respondent: Christian Geulen

2.30-3.30 PM Harm Kaal/Wim de Jong (Nijmwegen/Amsterdam): Conceptions of Class. The Interaction Between Scientific and Political Languages of Class in the Netherlands, c. 1930s-1980s
Respondent: Christian Fleck

3.30-4.00 PM Break

Please note that we change venue for the afternoon and evening to 470 Stephens Hall

4.00-5.00 PM Marie Burks (Cambridge, Mass.): Thinking Through "Conflict": Defining a Social Scientific Concept in Cold War America
Respondent: David Bates

5.00-6.00 PM Break

6-7.30 PM Paul Rabinow: What is a Case?: Concepts and Practices
Introduction: Mario Wimmer
followed by reception


Friday, March 20 (Townsend Center, Geballe Room)

9.30-10.30 AM Eric Schatzberg (Wisconsin): From Technologie to Technology: Death and Rebirth of a Keyword
Respondent: Cathryn Carson

10.30-11.00 AM Break

11.00-12.00 PM Neus Rotger (Barcelona): Historicizing Romance
Respondent: Anthony J. Cascardi

12.00-1.30 PM Lunch Break

1.30-2.30 PM Lisa Reade (Berkeley): Metaphor as Orientation: Kant to Blumenberg
Respondent: A. Aloisia Moser

2.30-3.30 PM Henning Trüper (Berlin/Paris): Future Philology and Behind Philology: Ruminations on a Nineteenth-Century German Concept
Respondent: Niklaus Largier

3.30-4 PM Break

4-5 PM Simon Taylor (Chicago): From Kierkegaard to Klonopin, or, Toward a Conceptual History of Anxiety
Respondent: Thomas Laqueur

5.15-6 PM Final discussion