The history of political concepts: new levels, new approaches and new questions
This essay is based on the premise that the study ofthe history ofpolitical terms, ifit is to meet contemporary theoretical and critical standards, must take into account modern but also postmodern approaches to language and politics. According to the latter political concepts can be seen as tools ofman in the sphere of power, but conversely as instruments of the power structuring human possibilities. This second approach is one that enables the historian to identify and trace the linguistic borders and definition of the political and so to uncover the shifts and transformations ofpower. Here I propose dividing the study of conceptual history into three analytical levels: the level ofthe isolated concept, the level of conceptual relations or structures, and the level ofpolitical language. On each ofthese I try critically to assess the possibilities of two important schools of conceptual history - the so-called Cambridge School (principally Skinner and J. G. A. Pocock) and the researchers associated with the German project Geschichtliche Grundbegiffe (particularly R. Koselleck and W. Conze), and their continuers -, but also to indicate alternative possibilities for the study of concepts inspired especially by gender analyses and (post)structurahsm. In this context an essential part ofthe new study ofconceptual history must be a radical enlargement ofthe definition of concept.
Dějiny – Teorie – Kritika, redakce, Masarykův ústav a Archiv AV ČR, v.v.i., Gabčíkova 2362/10, 180 00 Praha 8, Czech Republic
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