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For an embodied history of ideas. Articulating economy, society, politics and culture: the example of the Enlightenment
» Σεμινάρια » Κύκλος 2018-19


For an embodied history of ideas.
Articulating economy, society, politics and culture:
the example of the Enlightenment

Ομιλητής
Steven Kaplan
(Cornell University, Ithaca)


In this talk I want to treat a number of questions about France in the 18th century and about “doing history,” especially intellectual history/the history of ideas. I would ordinarily begin with the latter—historiographical, methodological and epistemological issues
, framing the debate broadly, and then move on to its concrete illustration in terms of a robust case study, with multiple ramifications. Given the draconian constraints of time and my keen awareness that many of you are not familiar with the 18th century landscape, I will invert the process, dealing first and at length with the substantive issues and then turning to ways of apprehending, reading, demonstrating, interpreting. The risk is that I have much less opportunity than I would have liked to explore the latter problems, which have bearing on “doing history” in most any other national, cultural or temporal setting, and thus may be more interesting to you than the Enlightenment episode itself. If this should be the outcome, to redress the imbalance, I count on you to push me during the question/comment period at the end.

Briefly, I will introduce you to the “economic turn,” a profound transformation of practices and attitudes, traversing all of Europe, that generated what I call the Economic Enlightenment. The latter nourished numerous debates on the most fruitful ways of recasting relations between State and Society, particularly as they turned on the production, distribution and consumption of goods, under the restless prod of a gradually ripening capitalism. The most portentous concerned the question of grain, the source of most of elite revenue and the ration of survival of the vast bulk of the population. This debate proved to have prodigious consequences, far too dispersed over time, space and arena for me to inventory here. A powerful movement in fervent support of what I call grain liberalism issued in the promulgation of the most radical reforms of the 18th century before the Revolution), drastically deregulating the grain trade and repudiating the once-sacrosanct social contract of subsistence. As a result of these deeply disruptive measures (1763-64) and successive harvest shortfalls (1766-70), the kingdom plunged into a grave social crisis, marked by deepening anxiety, proliferating misery, hundreds of revolts, and a burgeoning political demand for a restoration of the old paradigm of paternalism and reciprocity, of social control and moral economy. The real-life confrontation between liberals (laissez-fairistes) and regulationists (“restricters”) quickly dissipated the illusion of Enlightenment unity on fundamental principles. The Neapolitan thinker Galiani launched the first “bomb,” aimed at the core liberal assumptions associated with Physiocracy; the partisans of the latter riposted venomously and verbosely. In the name of humanity, Diderot, known as the philosophe, defended Galiani’s methodology and conclusions, while Turgot, years before becoming chief minister, anticipated the second phase of the liberal crusade, vigorously rebutted by the Genevan banker Necker, another future minister, in the mid-1770s.

Can the historian, even or especially of ideas, treat this experience as an intellectual (or cultural) dispute from within the vantage point of warring texts? I argue in favor of an embodied history of ideas that necessarily takes into thick account the social, economic and political environment in order to decode these very texts and make sense of the debate and the crisis that engulfed it.


Τρίτη, 2 Απριλίου 2019 | 18:00









 

 
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