Call for Papers

The 19th International Conference on Conceptual History

will be held at Aarhus University, Denmark

September 14-16, 2016


Key Concepts in Times of Crisis

The general theme and title of the conference will be “key concepts in times of crisis”. The study of historical change through the formation of key concepts is at the core of conceptual history. Concepts can acquire the status as central within the political and social vocabulary through long historical processes. The modern concept of democracy emerged with the French revolution of 1789 and became central to ideologies and political languages in the latter part of the 19th century. The concept of crisis took shape in the 18th century and became central to the understanding of politics and economy in the 19th century. The study of changes through the emergence of key concepts is underpinned by a sophisticated theory of historical time and temporality. On one hand, concepts are layered in time. They carry with them older meanings that can be activated in the present. This explains why the present can be viewed as a non-contemporaneity of the contemporaneous. On the other hand, humans always act in accordance with a horizon of expectation. Conceptual history investigates how the possible futures orientating human action are conceptualized. The increasing uncertainty that characterizes modern societies has led to flow of temporal concepts which tries to conceptually master the future. The emergence of modern societies was followed by a range of concepts that were meant to conceptualize future directions such as progress, civilization, history in the singular, and revolution. While these concepts carried with them counter-concepts (decline, decay, and fall) that could indicate the possible risks societies would run into on their way to the future.  The grand narratives formed by the political ideologies of the 19th and 20th century were to a large degree capable of mastering the political imaginations. This is hardly the case anymore. Changes in the mechanisms of politics, new technologies and the ever-increasing globalization of human life have certainly changed the horizons of expectations and made the future more open and more risky. The conference will engage with the ways in which this more radical openness is mirrored in political concepts of time.

Even if concepts develop over time and change gradually we can also notice that in more turbulent periods characterized by increasing societal challenges contestation of existing concepts increases, which is often followed by a growing conceptual innovation. When more people move across the world due to catastrophes, poverty or instability, concepts of social cohesion are challenged and new ones appear as for instance the concept of the multicultural society or old ones such as the nation are revitalised. When climate change becomes more pressing in international political debates sustainability turns into a political key concept. When warfare changes with non-state combatants acting in new ways, terrorism becomes a key concept in international politics. At the 2016 conference we will study how new key concepts are coined and transmitted globally in situations where existing frameworks are severely challenged.

The organizers welcome proposals for panels or papers that look at conceptual change in situations of growing risks, crisis or even catastrophe and focus on the semantic and social changes which lead to conceptual innovation. Proposals could address different forms of crises such as for instance

  • The political crisis caused by feelings of deficit, instability or injustice
  •  The economic and financial crises leading to the erosion of social cohesion
  • The crisis of insecurity linked to the lack of international order
  • The crisis of identity within multicultural societies
  • The crisis of survival related to climate change.

We also invite proposals that discuss the history of temporal concepts and more broadly the understanding of temporality within conceptual history

Proposals for individual papers should be no longer than 400 words, and proposals for panels should not exceed 800 words. Short CVs of the speakers should be added (name, institutional affiliations, major publications – not more than five). Panels at the conference will last two hours. There should be no more than four paper givers (or three paper givers and a commentator) per panel.

Please send your proposals to

The deadline for sending in proposals is the 31st May 2016

Authors will be notified of paper acceptance or non-acceptance at latest the 15th of June