ECPR General Conference Glasgow, 3-6 September 2014

Section "Key Concepts in Political Science: Fields, Issues and Arenas of their Change"


Section chair: Claudia Wiesner, University of Jyväskylä and University of Marburg

Co-Chair: Kari Palonen, University of Jyväskylä


Political concepts have a key role in and for political science. First, they serve at describing, analysing, explaining, and understanding its research objects as analytical and theoretical categories. Political concepts are themselves controversial and an object of politics and always related to changes in the real world: they are objects and indicators of political changes, conflicts or debates.

Conceptual historical approaches to the study of the history and changes of political concepts, has important resources to offer for analysing and tackling these questions. The origins of conceptual historical approaches can be traced to Reinhart Koselleck’s and Quentin Skinner’s work. Since the 1990s international networks, research projects and publications on conceptual histories have been developing in numerous European countries, and political science scholars play an active role in them.

It is an aim of the Section to extend the use of conceptual historical approaches in political science, and to develop methodologies and practices for the analysis and consequences of conceptual changes further with regard to the purposes of political science.

Conceptual struggles are at the core of political changes. Conceptual changes can indicate  new debates, for example around the concept of civil society from the 1980s onwards. Conceptual disputes also alter classical key concepts like liberty and democracy, having political thinkers question and discuss how they should be understood. Moreover, changes in European integration and International Relations challenge established interpretations of key questions, like sovereignty, state, citizenship or government. Finally, conceptual struggles in oral and written forms can take place in such arenas as newspapers, other media, public and parliamentary debates.

The aim of the section is to explore core fields, issues and arenas of conceptual change. The panels planned so far are:


Freedom – a conceptual history

Re-interprations of key concepts in times of EU integration

The Citizenship Nexus: The Concept and the Collisions

Conceptual History in International Relations

Democracy: Historical and Semantic Transformations

Debate, Political Documents and the Democratic Experience