What is Politics?: Exploring the history of a concept across the Euro-Islamic World - Workshop

Numbers are limited, so booking is essential!
Lunch is free for students and low-waged, £5 for others.

Workshop object:
The object of this workshop is to explore changing understandings of ‘politics’ in Europe, the Ottoman and Arab worlds and South Asia, from the seventeenth through the nineteenth, and possibly into the early twentieth century. The workshop will be concerned with mapping patterns of word use, and considering the function of a set of related words in both rhetorical and practical contexts, with particular attention to how meaning changed through interaction and translation across languages.

It is conventionally suggested that the Arabic/Ottoman word that came to mean politics, siyasa or siyaset, was reinterpreted during the nineteenth century in order to convey ‘politics’ more or less as Europeans understood it. However, this account presumes a relatively clear and stable European understanding of ‘politics’, on which other cultures could readily draw. In fact, recent discussion among Europeanists suggests that many of the ways in which historians now conceptualise politics date from the late twentieth century. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the word only slowly acquired aspects of its current meaning. Scholars should not take its meanings in earlier centuries for granted, and still need to do more work exploring its functioning within a larger semantic field.

Siyasa similarly acquired different connotations in the various languages drawing on Arabic, and functioned within a larger semantic field, which is still in process of being explored.

There is therefore more to be discovered about concepts of politics than the established literature recognises. This enquiry also has the potential to function as a point of entry into larger debates, about how to write transnational histories of concepts, and how to conceptualise intellectual and cultural relationships between European and Islamic worlds through the early modern and modern periods. Should we perhaps be thinking in terms of a process of co-evolution or entanglement, rather than transfer?