Challenges and Problems of the Linguistic Turn

A seminar organised by Thomas Ekman Jørgensen and Bo Stråth


The last two decades in history and the social sciences have been marked by the advances of what is known as the linguistic, or the cultural, turn. Historians, sociologists and (maybe less so) political scientists have increasingly turned their attention to questions of language, identity, symbols and social constructions, leaving behind the quantifiable material explanations of the 1960s and 1970s.

Although this turn can be traced back even to the mid-1960s with the works of Michel Foucault, both the scientific communities still devoted to 'traditional' approaches as well as those dedicated to studies of culture and language refer to the linguistic turn as a novelty. Indeed, many (mainly the practitioners themselves) see the linguistic turn as an oppositional, progressive method breaking new grounds in the face of hard resistance from the 'conservatives'. Even if the conflict between the two is very real in many institutions, the adjectives 'new' and 'traditional' are hardly appropriate after twenty years. Rather the present situation is one of competition between established schools and methods.

The idea of the seminar 'Challenges and Problems of the Linguistic Turn' is first and foremost to get beyond the image of the linguistic turn as a ground-breaking new perspective and see it as an established school with the constraints and possibilities. As the possibilities and advantages have been thoroughly described elsewhere, the seminar will mainly focus on the questions of constraints. As any other scientific discipline, the linguistic turn in the social and humane sciences is mainly a restrictive praxis. It prescribes certain questions and answers and the way of getting from one to the other, while excluding alternatives. It could be argued that the linguistic turn has arrived at a state where the original insights to a large degree have been exhausted. It seems that the school show signs of entrenchment, which makes its inherent limits ever more obvious. By taking such tendencies of entrenchment and exhaustion up for discussion, we hope maintain or create a more dynamic and open view of the disciplines.

                Session 1 (Sala Europa, 14 October 1500-1700)
              Challenges and Problems of the Linguistic Turn (Introduction to the seminar, Thomas Jørgensen. Readings: Victoria Bonnet & Lynn Hunt, "Introduction", in Beyond the Cultural Turn, Berkeley & Los Angeles 1999, pp. 1-32)

Session 2 (Villa la Fonte, 5 November 1700-1900)
                Narration and Representation (Hayden White: Metahistory in Retrospect and Prospect , readings: Hayden White, "Introduction: The Poetics of History" in Metahistory, Baltimore 1973, pp. 1-42)

Session 3 (Sala Europa, 26 November 1700-1900)
              Language and the Social Fabric, (Bo Stråth: From Social History to the Linguistic Turn. Readings: Reinhart Koselleck, "History of Concepts and Concepts of History")

Session 4 (Seminario 1, 31 March 1500-1700)
                Spaces and Limits of Interpretation (Thomas Ekman Jørgensen and Poul Noer), download papers here (pdf)

Session 5 (Sala Triaria, 26 April 1500-1700)
                Uses of 'Discourse', (Rita Garstenauer, paper available in Serio Amadei's office)

Session 6 (18 May)
Memory and Genocide, workshop in collaboration with Martin van Gelderen on Memory and Representation