New Histories of Intellectuals and Politics

Papers that explore links between the two components, theory and practice, of politics, and uncover connections between political ideas and action are welcome for the panels reflecting on this broader theme. To express this on a different level, the panel participants shall aim at exploring the relation between intellectuals and the sphere of politics, no longer treating intellectuals and politicians as two distinctly separate groups, but focusing on the dynamics of their mutual influence and the negotiations between the ideas and interests, and consciously defending the views they hold on these matters. With keeping this expectation in mind, focusing on certain significant actors – and seeing and analyzing intellectuals as individual voices articulating political opinions – as well as on the specific contexts of such individuals that greatly impact their work, and shape their political acts are considered similarly valid.

Moreover, questions related to the connections between intellectuals and social structures in the widest sense of the term (including intellectuals’ relation to social origins and embeddedness, state service, systems of education, the spread of knowledge, etc.) are highly recommendable directions of inquiry, as long as these social historical findings are again related to political phenomena. As intellectuals have been often discontented members of societies as well as enthusiastic supporters of various political arrangements, explorations of the kinds of criticisms and apologias that they have provided are encouraged, and it is recommended to relate these to the same intellectuals’ self-identifications. These self-identifications vary from being “experts” with special legitimation to influence policy making to “objective observers” helping improvements through their maintenance of independence. It is interesting to reflect on various modern intellectual professions and the ways they established themselves, their reputation and claimed usefulness – historians, for instance, traditionally professing themselves to be “independent observers of the truth.” Moreover, general questions related to intellectuals’ self-reflections (and their construction of, for instance, an identity based on being a rational individual) and identifications with groups – consciously imagined and then constructed (i.e. invented) by intellectuals, or (supposedly) found and joined by them – ought to be addressed. Questions of special relevance are: what is the relation between modern individual self-consciousness and group identification? To what extent have intellectuals been able to influence political developments through their verbal (or other) ways of identifying (with) groups?

Possible panels within this area Keynote speaker and invited expert

Jan-Werner Müller (Princeton University)