The History of Political and Social Concepts

The History of Political and Social Concepts : A Critical Introduction

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This book outlines and illustrates a new approach to intellectual history - the history of "concepts". In distinction to the study of more traditional units of analysis, (authors, texts, traditions, discourses) conceptual history systematically combines the history of ideas and language with social history in such a way as to illustrate how changes in language both registered and shaped great transformations of government, society, economy, and mentality. With its origin in German social thought, and now gaining popularity in the US, this approach has affinities with some British intellectual history (Pocock, Skinner) and French discourse analysis, yet Richter carefully demonstrates how conceptual history makes important advances over each by focusing on the range of a terms's meaning, its changes, and its continuities, while avoiding pitfalls of deconstruction. This volume will be indispensable for historians of political and social thought, political and social philosophers, and those interested in the history of ideas.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 214 pages
  • 158 x 230 x 22mm | 458.13g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195088263
  • 9780195088267
  • 1,478,729

Review quote

Melvin Richter's contribution is both persuasive and welcome. * Times Literary Supplement * Offers more than simply an introduction ... Richter provides not only an overview of its fundamental presuppositions and accomplishments, but also a critical analysis of its methods. This volume will thus be welcomed by those who have little or no previous knowledge of exciting developments in Germany connected with 'Begriffsgeschichte, as well as by those who have followed these developments and desire a cogent summary of its progress and limitations ... his monograph is unique in the Anglophone world ... Only with the efforts of cultural mediators, like Richter, and with the appearance of excellent books like his, will German theoretical concerns have the opportunity to gain an audience in the Anglophone world and to stimulate the type of intellectual exchange that can enrich our collective knowledge of political and social concepts. * German Politics and Society * Professor Richter's key interest in The History of Political and Social Concepts is to introduce anglophone readers to an approach to language, pioneered in Germany since 1945, known as 'Begriffsgeschichte' (the history of concepts) ... No longer under Hegelian tutelage, in which ideas or spirit are deemed to have a priority over, and an autonomy from, the agents who purportedly are their vehicles, this new tendency in German historiography has sought to bring the study of language into a particularly close relationship with social and political history ... it has produced studies so richly documented that historians of language are likely to find it indispensable for their own inquiries. In making this case, and in promoting the dialogue between anglophone and German-speaking traditions, Melvin Richter's contribution is both persuasive and welcome. * Times Literary Supplement * Melvin Richter has a dual agenda for this study: first, to acquaint the English-speaking reader with the German historiographical trend of the last thirty years known as 'Begriffsgeschichte', or the history of concepts; second, to advocate a similar direction for Anglo-American scholarship ... the book stands on its own as an informative contribution to our understanding of the German movement. The major accomplishments of 'Begriffsgeschichte' have not been narrative histories as such but lexicons ... A further distinguishing feature of these lexicons is that they were conceived in response to a specific research question: to investigate with precision the origins of modernity ... That said, the high level of scholarship in these fragments, as convincingly portrayed by Richter, renders the value of such an approach beyond dispute. * American Historical Review * There are three main approaches to the history of ideas practised today ... In Germany, there is 'Begriffsgeschichte', a 'history of concepts' on the border between the history of language and the history of society ... a critical introduction intended for students of sociology and political science as well as history. ... Richter's book is admirably perceptive, precise, balanced, lucid and concise ... The most valuable aspect of The History of Political and Social Concepts is the author's attempt to 'open a dialogue', as he puts it, between the Anglo-American and the German approaches ... the great strength and the great value of Richter's volume ... is to show clearly to intellectual historians or would-be intellectual historians in the English-speaking world what they might gain from a closer acquaintance with the work of their German colleagues. * History of European Ideas * Richter has provided us with a useful introduction to the state-of-the-art German scholarship on the concepts and vocabularies of political philosophy in the modern period. * Omar Dahbour, Journal of the History of Philosophy * Richter offers the clearest introduction to the research strategy of the Geschichtliche Grundbergriffe available in English. His manner of reviewing its historiographical background should be welcomed by those unfamiliar with recent developments in the works of German historians ... it is characterized by a lively sense of the most recent approaches to the subject. There has been a need for a general introduction in English to the work of continental conceptual history, and this volume fills this need. On the whole, it is scholarly, controversial and thought-provoking and thus reaches its declared goals. * Pasi Ihalainen, Finnish Yearbook of Political Thought 1997 * Offers more than simply an introduction. In a sovereign survey of the scholars and writings associated with conceptual history, Richter provides not only an overview of its fundamental presuppositions and accomplishments, but also a critical analysis of its methods ... Lucidly written and judicious in its evaluations, this book will reach beyond German Studies, drawing the attention of non-German specialists to important theoretical developments in the Federal Republic ... Only with the efforts of cultural mediators, like Richter, and with the appearance of excellent books like his, will German theoretical concerns have the opportunity to gain an audience in the Anglophone world and to stimulate the type of intellectual exchange that can enrich our collective knowledge of political and social concepts. * Robert C. Holub, German Politics and Society * Richter's new book, The History of Political and Social Concepts, functions both as a general introduction to, and a critique of, conceptual history ... Melvin Richter, through his dissemination of the methods of conceptual historians and his own critical contribution to their conventions, has put at the disposal of the Anglophone public a set of tools that may be used to great advantage by the analyst of ideologies. * Michael Freeden, Journal of Political Ideologies *show more

Back cover copy

Since the 1960s, German scholars have developed distinctive methods for writing the history of political, social, and philosophical concepts. Applied to France as well as Germany, their work has set new standards for the historical study of political and social language, Begriffsgeschichte. In The History of Political and Social Concepts, Melvin Richter analyzes the theories which have generated conceptual history, and their reinterpretation of key concepts such as Max Weber's three types of legitimate Herrschaft, and that of civilite in France. What is it that we know when we learn the history of a concept? What difference does it make that we know it? After assessing the programs and achievements of Begriffsgeschichte, the author argues the need for an analogous project to chart the careers of political and social concepts used in English-speaking societies. Addressed not only to historians of political and social thought, this work will interest students and scholars of political culture, social historians, and historians of ideas, historiography, law, language, and rhetoric.show more

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