The Negotiating Modernity Project maps the history of East-Central European political thought from the late eighteenth to the early twenty-first century. Paying attention to both the intra- and extra-regional interferences, and breaking the duality of Western "core" and Eastern "periphery", it is meant to contribute to the emergence of a truly European perspective of intellectual history. The researchers answer questions about the key components of European political thought, formulated on the basis of a regional and trans-regional comparative analysis.
The project is funded by the European Research Council, programme "Ideas: ERC Starting Grants". It will result in a synthetic volume on the history of modern political thought in East Central Europe based on a diachronic analysis especially sensitive to transnational discursive phenomena (e.g. the ideological traditions transcending national borders such as liberalism, socialism, conservatism, federalism), and being equally open to supra-national and sub-national (regional) frameworks, where different national projects were interacting.
The authors of the project believe that there is an increasing demand for a common European history that cannot be based on merely projecting the Western European historical narratives on the whole continent, but requires the careful scrutiny of the specific regional and local ways of dealing with modernity. Their long-term ambition is to contribute to the re-framing of fundamental categories by effectively incorporating "local knowledge" of cultures outside of Western Europe, in both empirical and theoretical sense, into the comparative analysis. The recent debates in comparative European politics have also focused on the role of indigenous political cultures in developing and sustaining democracy. All this points to the need of well-informed methodologically advanced empirical studies that could create a more complex framework of comparing and linking political traditions.
The intention of the project is to "Europeanize" the history of East-Central European political thought, while, at the same time, "re-negotiating" the European intellectual canon. The Project goes beyond the simple task of expanding the pool of "shared" references. It implies the rethinking of the categories in which the history of modern political ideas – and thus of modernity, as such – has been traditionally formulated. By analyzing the contested models of modernity these cultures developed over the last two centuries, from the Enlightenment up to the Post-Communist period, the project aims at contributing to the formation of a new European intellectual history, which takes into account the radical multiplicity of contexts, as well as the complex processes of ideological transmission and reception.
The geographical scope of the project comprises the national cultures of East-Central Europe, i.e. the countries wedged between the three imperial projects, Ottoman, Russian and Habsburg.
Methodology. The project team has developed a radically new approach in order to be able to write a concise modern synthesis of political thought in the region. The key methodological challenge of the project is to avoid, on the one hand, a unifying narrative that would essentialize the region and, on the other hand, a traditional system of separate subchapters presenting various national histories. The most innovative aspect of our research is its dialogical nature. One of the obvious gains of such an approach is that we can test the interpretative assumptions present in various national historiographies against the situations in neighboring countries.
Project Team Structure Principal Investigator:
Balázs Trencsényi, Central European University, Budapest, Assistant Professor, Department of History. Ph.D. in Comparative History (2004). Co-director of the historical research institute Pasts, Inc., Center for Historical Studies at CEU. The role of the Principal Investigator is to conceptualize and coordinate the project, moderate the dialogue of the team members, and ensure the coherence of the contributions to the collective volume.
Core Group of Researchers:
Dr. Mónika Baár (University of Groningen, specializing in comparative historiography of Central and Eastern Europe);
Dr. Maciej Janowski (Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, specializing in the history of liberalism and conservatism in Central Europe);
Dr. Michal Kopeček (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences, specializing in the history of left-wing political ideologies in the region);
Maria Falina (Central European University, specializing in "political religions" in the Balkans).
Luka Lisjak-Gabrielčić, a Ph.D. candidate at Central European University.
External Experts: In order to cover all the countries of the region to extend the framework of negotiation, the project envisages using a broader circle of "external experts." Scholars working on various aspects of the intellectual history of the region will be invited for thematic "expert workshops," contributing on specific issues.
Project outlineThe project, supported by the European Research Council Starting Independent Researcher Grant, seeks to map the history of East Central European political thought from the late eighteenth to the early twenty-first century. Paying attention to both the intra- and extra-regional interferences, and breaking the essentialist duality of Western “core” and Eastern “periphery”, it is meant to contribute to the emergence of a truly European perspective of intellectual history.
The principal aim of the Project is a synthetic volume on the history of modern political thought in East Central Europe. It is not meant to be compartmentalized according to national sub-chapters but based on a diachronic analysis especially sensitive to transnational discursive phenomena, and being equally open to supra-national and sub-national (regional) frameworks, where different national projects were interacting.
The project entails the task of “redescription” and conceptual transfer, i.e. finding a trans-culturally acceptable set of analytical categories, as well as new knowledge-production – answering questions about the basic components of European political thought, formulated on the basis of a regional and trans-regional comparative analysis. It also necessitates the “trading” of concepts: both in the direction of inserting specific historical experiences and analytical categories into European circulation, and also testing the value of the interpretative models linked to such notions as “populism”.
The project thus aims neither at a compendium of case-studies nor at a deductive Area Studies-type of approach that tends to eliminate differences to forge a general narrative. What it seeks to produce instead is a cross-cultural “synthesis”– the work of a compact team of multi-national composition, skilled in comparative research and drawing on the recent upsurge of transnational historiography. By shifting the reference point of historical thinking from the “West” to the cross-European experience with a special emphasis on East Central Europe, in other words, the project seeks to rethink the history of the “negotiation of political modernity,” moving from “moral ethnocentrism” and oversimplification towards a more encompassing notion of what constitutes the European intellectual heritage.