Meanings of Rights and Democracy in Europe
The new Europaeum European Conceptual History Research Project held its first workshop at the University of Oxford on Meanings of Rights and Democracy in Europe, on 17-18th March, 2008.
In the age of European integration and globalisation, the ever increasing cross cultural communication among citizens drawn from different regions, ideologies, social classes, and ethnicities, is becoming a most topical issue. In Europe the challenges of this interaction are highlighted within the European Union, a multilingual polity, with no single grid to show how key juridical and political concepts are used. The language borders and the state borders do not always run together, and their different political language games do not necessarily correspond to national, linguistic or even party political differences. We have to accept that there are no simple or mechanical ways for translating key political concepts; they will always carry within them historical layers with inherent historical controversies.
It was against this background that a group of European scholars met in Oxford in 17-18th November 2006 to discuss the merits of combining high-quality research in the field of European Conceptual history, with pragmatic goals such as bringing their research results to for a where problems of communication and transfer of culture can be discussed together with practitioners – policy makers, law makers, the media representatives, translators and lexicographers.
The focus of the work of the research group will be on exploring the rhetorical problems of political discourse in Europe. The group aims to find out the cultural and social differences of the usage and examine the possibilities of standardisation and limitations of harmonisation processes. Communication caps can be narrowed but it requires cross cultural awareness of the complicity of the issue.
The European Union is a multi-lingual polity, with no simple or single grid to show how key juridical and political concepts are used. Moreover, there are no simple or mechanical ways for translating key political concepts. They always carry, within them, historical layers, with inherent historical controversies.
Good governance, though, benefits greatly from uniform practices utlising common terminologies. However, there are unavoidable limits to harmonising such terminology. A deeper understanding and awareness of such limits requires discussions of the conceptual differences that stem out of our different histories.
Since the 1990s, such conceptual history has become a significant special branch of social and political studies in many European universities. Of course, definitions of central political and social concepts can always be contested. However, conceptual history also offers keys to far greater cultural understanding, revealing cultural and historical differences embedded in language.
This international conference for leading European conceptual historians from different countries aims to develop a group committed to working together to analyse different ways of using political and social key concepts in different languages in Europe.
The conference will review different options for a European conceptual history project, set guidelines and confirm a cluster of concepts to be analysed by the group, as well as options for financing. In addition, there will be discussion of more general, abstract, issues. These would include : To what extent has Europe a common public sphere and/or polity of its own ? How does one – and how should one – properly understand communality in Europe ? What are the European specificities involved in the conceptualisation process?
This European conceptual history project will not involve a limited number of paid researchers, more an organisation with delegated authority to steer and advise a conglomerate of projects and researchers based in different parts of Europe.
The conference and planned project will be kept pragmatic, and the output in terms f books useful will be aimed to serve both academics in different fields (Social and Political Sciences, Humanities, Law and Theology), but also practitioners among different sections of the EU edifice dealing with translation issues, and practitioners in different position in the educational field, dealing with the problem of how to communicate the fact that people in different parts of Europe conceptualise the world and society in different ways. The target groups for this event are thus conceptual History experts translation studies teachers and experts and education practitioners.
The event will comprise a number of introductory papers setting out both general issues and looking at particular concepts and clusters of concepts. But one session will be arranged in collaboration with European history teachers, to establish direct communication between academics in the field, and sections of society outside academia which are expected to have an immediate use of information about different ways of using key concepts in different parts of Europe.
Dr Henrik Stenius
Research Director of the Centre for Nordic Studies
University of Helsinki