Intellectuals, universalisms and the logics of universalization 2014

Workshop arranged by the Academy of Finland-project Asymmetries in European Cultural Space

23-24.10.2014, Unioninkatu 38A, room A132 (thursday 14-18, friday 9-12)

The purpose of this two-day interdisciplinary workshop is to take a closer look at different forms of universalism as well as the logic of universalization in intellectual history, literature and philosophy.

Intellectual cultures differ considerably in treating local debates as either uniquely particular or as expressions of a universal discourse. From the perspective of geo-cultural asymmetry between centres and peripheries, it is often assumed that ideas from the centres have a greater chance of becoming universalized.

Are the peripheries more immune against universalistic modes of thinking by virtue of their comparative insight into discourses and developments in rivaling centres, or is universalization of ideas and concepts something that actually happens in the periphery, when ideas received from the centres are disconnected from their original context?

The seminar is free and open to all.

See programme here or doc docx.

Fourth European Congress on World and Global History (ENIUGH), 2014


 Fourth European Congress on World and Global History (ENIUGH),

The École normale supérieure Paris, 5 September 2014 at 01:30–03:30PM

Cultural Mediation, Intellectual History, and the Question of European Peripheries

Chair of the session: Dr. Marja Jalava (University of Helsinki)

In recent postcolonial studies, the ideas of Europe as a universal model and the centre of development have been constantly criticized. Instead, the focus has been on the complex ways in which Europe was made from its colonies. However, as noted by Frederick Cooper among others, the simple juxtaposition of the “European core” and the “colonial peripheries” threatens to flatten modern European history into a single, monolithic post-Enlightenment era, leaving out the conflicts, tensions, and asymmetrical relations within that continent’s history. This panel focuses on cultural mediation in the 19th and 20th -century Europe, especially on the role of actors from marginal intellectual fields. Mediation arguably plays a pronounced role in the intellectual histories of European small/peripheral countries. This is particularly true for regions whose position in the geopolitics of intellectual life could be, in the absence of a better word, described as “semi-peripheral.” Using the cases of Scandinavia, East Central, and South Eastern Europe as examples, the panel encourages comparative reflection on shifts in the logic of cultural mediation depending on the position of national/peripheral cultural fields in the international intellectual space as well as the very logic of producing centres and peripheries.

The panel consists of the following three presentations:

Dr. Stefan Nygård & Dr. Johan Strang (European University Institute, University of Helsinki):

Facing asymmetry – Nordic perspectives on transnationalism in intellectual history

Cultural asymmetries and center-periphery dynamics play a crucial role in the lives and careers of small country intellectuals. In a culture that conceives of itself as peripheral, there is a notion that the “real” discussions are taking place elsewhere, and that any ambitious scholar, writer, or intellectual need to approach the cultural centers in order to develop professionally. This paper addresses the role of asymmetry in the interaction between intellectual fields in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from the perspective of the Nordic peripheries. By focusing on the spatial and temporal hierarchies implicit in the way Nordic intellectuals perceived and made use of backwardness, our aim is to bring a peripheral perspective to the discussion on transnational intellectual history and the study of cultural transfers.

Dr. Emilia Palonen (University of Helsinki):

Between centres and peripheries: Transnational Hungarian Intellectuals

Palonen discusses in her paper the way in which the national context and transnational identifications played a role in the life and work of Hungarian left-wing intellectuals. She investigates the politicisation of these identities as local or foreign, Jewish or cosmopolitan through the examples of George Lukács and Agnes Heller, in particular. The Internationals and the postwar and postrevolutionary movements to the West brought a multilayeredness to the identifications of the thinkers, whether in expatriot communities, in the home country, or in the global academia and politics. What is the role of the centres and peripheries? Which are the centres and which peripheries?


Prof., Dr. Diana Mishkova (Centre for Advanced Study Sofia):

Rescaling the periphery: Regionalist Balkan Visions about Europe

Since the early twentieth century there has existed a respectable scholarly current in the Balkans which had sought to define it as a historical region and a cultural space. In the process they had tried to transfigure both the cultural-historical ‘ontology’ of the region and the Western European perceptions of it. The paper will discuss the way several leading regionalist scholars in the Balkans had conceptualized the place of the region and their discipline with respect to Europe and European/global civilization. Particular attention will be paid to subversions of the centre-periphery dichotomy and devising alternative ‘universalisms’.

Workshop 2013, UIE, Florence: Cultural asymmetry and the limits of transnationalism in intellectual history

The Asymmetries project’s first symposium was held at the European University Institute (EUI), in Florence, Italy, on 3-4 May 2013, on the topic of Cultural asymmetry and the limits of transnationalism in intellectual history (19th & 20th century Europe). The symposium was organised by Stefan Nygård and Petri Koikkalainen, both Academy of Finland sponsored fellows at the EUI. The following questions were addressed by the participants, from a variety of regional and disciplinary perspectives:

In the practice of intellectual history today, there is a variety of ways to approach the question of how national intellectual fields relate to each other, as witnessed for example by the wide gap between centre-periphery models of cultural diffusion and postmodern appraisals of hybridity. The goal of the workshop is to address this issue by encouraging reflection upon the tension between national debates, institutions and audiences on the one hand, the transnationality of intellectual and scientific life on the other.

As the prominence of the nation-state gradually transformed the tasks assigned to history, in particular, intellectuals were given the role of distinguished interpreters of the national past, and of the nations’ future opportunities in the case of the emerging social sciences. At the same time, cross-cultural transfers played a decisive role in shaping national discourses and conceptual innovations, and intellectuals were expected to live up to standards of universality, truth and impartiality.

While for some scientific and cultural fields nationality crucially defined the terms of the debate well into the 20th century, other spheres have been more transnational. By the beginning of the 21st century, it also seems clear that the status enjoyed by history and the social sciences during the emergence and expansion of the nation-state has been weakened. Concepts such as ‘efficiency’, ‘network’ or ‘globalization’, belonging to the language of everyday governance today, differ considerably from the vocabularies used in the nationally oriented study of politics.


Cultural asymmetry and the limits of transnationalism in
intellectual history (19th & 20th century Europe)

Sala Belvedere, Villa Schifanoia, EUI, 3-4 May 2013

Friday 3 May

9.30 Welcome (Stefan Nygård & Petri Koikkalainen)

9.45- Panel 1: Universalisms / Particularisms

Henrik Stenius (Univ. of Helsinki): Concepts in Peripheries
and Centres

Matti La Mela (EUI-HEC): Merging “non-national” and national.
The example of copyright in late 19th century Finland

11.00 Coffee break

Łukasz Mikołajewski (EUI/Warsaw university): How to approach
cultural “inwardness”? Reflections on the margins of a research
on émigré literature

Johan Strang (Univ. of Helsinki): Peripheral eclecticism and
Swedish universalism. Reflections on analytic philosophy in the
Nordic countries 1930-1970

12.45-14.00 Lunch

14.30- Panel 2: Cultural transfers

David Cottington (Kingston University): Mapping the avant-garde.
Methodologies and homologies

Magnus Qvistgaard (EUI-HEC): Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. The transfer
of a scandal

15.45 Coffee break

Stefan Nygård (EUI-MWP): The cosmopolitanism and cultural
nationalism of Georg Brandes

Saturday 4 May

9.30- Panel 3: Networks, politics, ideology

Petri Koikkalainen (EUI-HEC): State, Government, Governance.
The Disciplinary Pluralism of Political Studies

Emilia Palonen (Univ. of Helsinki): Articulating the nation?
Transnational canon in Budapest street names

11.00 Coffee break

Tommaso Giordani (EUI-HEC): Between Italy, France and
Germany. Georges Sorel and the revisionist crisis of 1898

Konstantina Zanou (Univ. of Nicosia): Transnational lives of the
age of nationalism. Biography and the transnational turn in
intellectual history of the 19th century

Concluding remarks