Biographies of Concepts in the Human and Social Sciences

Poster image for the Biographies symposium
Thursday, Mar 19, 2015 to Friday, Mar 20, 2015
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall
Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society, 460 Stephens Hall
United States

This two-day symposium brings together international scholars to explore the history of concepts in the humanities and social sciences. The focus is 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 will discuss the potential of this approach for the history of the human and social sciences.

This event is free and open to the public however please register by sending an email to to gain access to the pre-circulated papers.

Co-sponsored by the Austria-Berkeley fund of the Marshall Plan Foundation, the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society, and the Departments of Anthropology and Rhetoric.



9:00 am - 9:30 am

Mario Wimmer (Berkeley), "Writing histories of concepts"

9:30 am -10:30 am

Hélène Mialet (Davis), "The History and Limits of the Actor-Network Concept"

Respondent: Mario Biagioli

11:00 am -12:00 pm

Benjamin Wurgaft (Cambridge, MA), "A Meditation on Canguilhem’s Concept of the Cell: Vitality in and out of Cartesian Vats
Respondent: Jonathan Sheehan

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Galina Durinova (Moscow), “Obshestvo: birth, life and death of Russian concept of society
Respondent: Alexei Yurchak

2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Niklas Olsen (Copenhagen), "The Concept of the Consumer in Neoliberal Political Thought
Respondent: Christian Geulen

3:00 pm - 3:30 pm


Please note: the venue changes in the afternoon to the CSTMS library, 460 Stephens Hall

3:30 pm - 4:30 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: Mario Wimmer

4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Marie Burks (Cambridge, MA), "Thinking Through “Conflict”: Defining a Social Scientific Concept in Cold War America
Respondent: David Bates

6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Lecture: Paul Rabinow (Berkeley), What is a Case?: Concepts and Practices
Introduction by Mario Wimmer


Friday, March 20

9:00 am - 10:00 am

Eric Schatzberg (Wisconsin), "From Technologie to Technology: Death and Rebirth of a Keyword
Respondent: Cathryn Carson

10:00 am - 11:00 am

Carl Marklund (Södertörn), "The Ghost of the Engineer: Birth, Death and Strange Afterlife of “Social Engineering” in Western Political and Social Theory"

Respondent: Christian Fleck

11:00 am - 11:30 am


11:30 am - 12:30 pm

Neus Rotger (Barcelona), "Historicizing Romance"
Respondent: Anthony J. Cascardi

12:30 pm - 1:30 pm


1:30 pm - 2:30 pm

Lisa Reade (Berkeley), "Metaphor as Orientation: Kant, Blumenberg, Ricoeur"
Respondent: A. Aloisia Moser

2:30 pm - 3:30 pm

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

3:30 pm - 4:00 pm


4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

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

5:15 pm - 6:00 pm

Final discussion