Cogut Institute for the Humanities

Political Concepts

Directed by Adi Ophir, Visiting Professor of the Humanities and Middle East Studies

The aim of the Political Concepts Initiative is threefold:

  • to revise key concepts in contemporary political discourse and introduce new concepts necessary for understanding a rapidly changing global reality;
  • to practice and reflect upon various types of conceptual performances and to posit the conceptual performance itself as an object of comparative, historical, literary, and philosophical studies; and
  • to use critical reflection focused on concepts as a framework for an ongoing, critical, interdisciplinary and multicultural conversation in the humanities and the social sciences, within the university and among research institutions worldwide.

Political Concepts enhances critical questioning of the political in the widest sense of the notion. Participants operate under the assumption that our era urgently needs a revised political lexicon that would help us better understand the world in which we live and act, and that the humanities at large can and should contribute toward such a revision. Some have proposed revisions of "key" political concepts (including their status as "key concepts"), others showed the political work done by terms and common nouns that are not usually considered “political,” and yet others invented new concepts, trying to capture and explicate what has hitherto been unnoticed or unaccounted for.

The Initiative has two components developed in collaboration with colleagues from Columbia University, CUNY, NYU, and The New School: a series of annual conferences and workshops and the online journal Political Concepts: A Critical Lexicon.

Political Concepts: A Video Lexicon

The initiative hosts an annual conference at the Cogut Institute in addition to ad hoc reading groups.
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The Spring 2022 conference will have no organizing theme, but will feature Brown University faculty. The event will seek to renew our sense of an intellectual community of engaged scholars and foreground our commitment to critique as a mode of being together and shaping the commons.
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The volume is edited by J.M. Bernstein, Adi Ophir, and Ann Laura Stoler and features 12 concepts : “Arche” (Stathis Gourgouris), “Blood” (Gil Anidjar), “Colony” (Ann Laura Stoler), “Concept” (Adi Ophir), “Constituent Power” (Andreas Kalyvas), “Development” (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak), “Exploitation” (Étienne Balibar), “Federation” (Jean L. Cohen), “Identity” (Akeel Bilgrami), “Rule of Law” (J. M. Bernstein), “Sexual Difference” (Joan Copjec), and “Translation” (Jacques Lezra)
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