While modernity is a polysemous and often-criticised term, it remains a key concept in the social sciences to describe economic, political, social and cultural processes from the nineteenth century to the present day. Once used from an evolutionary perspective, modernity both informed and was informed by the construction of nation-states, parliamentary democracies and industrialised economies. The Western-centric conception of modernity has since been heavily criticised. Postcolonial studies argue to decentralize the European trajectory, while transnational perspectives call into question diffusionist models of Western modernity. The merit of these recent epistemic developments lies in their rejection of reifying approaches to modernity. However, they do not make it possible to grasp the conflicts that crystallise around the use of modernity in Russian, Soviet and Ottoman (post-)imperial spaces.
When invoked by rulers, administrations, political parties or scholarly elites, modernity constitutes a discursive framework that legitimizes transformations in the political sphere, to include radical trends. For example, the Ottoman Tanzimat of the mid-nineteenth century sparked a profound historiographical debate on the nature and posterity of the modernity promoted by the Empire in the context of the vast plan to reform its administrative structure, legal system and economy. Moreover, the idea of modernity has also been called into question in the light of the Soviet project, which claimed to be modern, and whose proponents pursued extreme policies of forced industrialisation in the name of socialist modernity while promoting a social engineering project to justify the violence committed. In this context, it seems crucial to examine the flexible ways in which modernity is used and specifically, to analyze how modernity’s recurrent and protean mobilisations transform its associated issues.
The aim of this conference is to explore how the idea of modernity has been produced in situ by past and present actors in the areas under study. By focusing more closely on the way in which the internal dynamics of the geographical and social spaces of interest produce modernity, this conference aims to continue the work undertaken by areal studies on how modernity is conceptualised and actualised.
Modernities and empires This first approach explores the ties between Empires and «modernity» from the nineteenth century to the present day. Unlike teleological narratives that intrinsically link the birth of modernity to the edification of nation-states, of interest here is to consider specific models of imperial modernity, as well as the challenges to which they have been subjected. Reappropriations and reinventions of modernity engaged imperial powers in a doubly-implicated struggle for hegemony, both in regard to the populations they oversaw, as with with rival powers. This approach seeks to examine the playing field surrounding the production of models of modernity, with an emphasis on dialogue, transnational circulation and political confrontation. Challenging imperial modernities provides a related analytical component, focusing, for example, on center/periphery relations or borderlands. Finally, it is necessary to question the imperial legacy in the formation and/or rejection of conceptions of modernity in post-imperial spaces.
Modernities and cultures This second approach examines modernity and related concepts that are deployed in cultural field studies on the spaces in question. Modernity often implies a critique, and even a contestation, of an existing system of values and beliefs, that have been deemed obsolete. For example, recent debates on policies regarding the restitution of cultural heritage have stimulated a great volume of research exploring the genealogy and provenance of cultural goods and works of art connected to past imperial legacies. The ways in which cultural and creative models function and circulate are also the subject of ongoing reflection and analysis: the imposition of norms on cultural production; the relationship between conservative and avant-garde artistic practices; dominant universal imperatives and their internalization by dominated subjects; cultural imperialisms and universalism. The purpose is to examine these concepts as tools for rethinking modernities and their impact on the circulation and transfer of cultural ideas and goods, as well as the conditions of intellectual production on national and international scales in (post)-imperial Russian, Soviet, and Ottoman spaces.
Modernity and progress This third approach focuses on the relationship among technological progress, science and modernity. Frequently understood as an ideal that gives meaning to history, progress is perceived by the actors involved as both a condition and consequence of modernity. This idea requires reflection on the dissemination of knowledge and the circulation of socio-economic development models. Modernisation processes are often based on technologies, knowledge and even ideologies conceptualized in relation to the Western world, seen as a model or counter-model. As such, this relationship between technological progress and modernity explicitly or implicitly implies a hierarchization of societies according to their degree of development. In parallel, it is crucial to explore the correlation between the pursuit of technological progress and the numerous modernisation projects underway in the regions under study. It is therefore necessary to examine how the acquisition and mastery of innovative technological and scientific processes may be entangled in power relations and domination.
Modernity and violence Associated with the idea of progress, the horizon of modernity has nevertheless been mobilized to justify projects of social engineering and mass violence that have marked the twentieth century. Certain actors who claimed to be agents of modernisation and supported the creation of nationstates, socialist or national revolutions, or projects of radical economic transformation employed and justified mass violence as a means to achieve these ends. In this way, modernity or its process, modernisation, offered new justifications for ethnic and social cleansing, and paved the way for new practices and forms of violence. The spread of the idea of modernity thus seems to have transformed both the nature and the means of violence. Moreover, in recent decades the idea of modernity has been used to justify programmes that have led to the overexploitation of resources and environmental destruction, such as large-infrastructure projects that are often justified by the pursuit of economic modernisation. While the brutal exploitation of nature is not a recent phenomenon, it is important to analyze how the idea of modernity has changed the relationship between societies and their ecosystems. This approach offers a critical perspective on the destructive potential of modernity
Participation and abstract submission
This event is open to Graduate students in the humanities and social sciences (history, sociology, anthropology, economics, geography, philosophy, literature, etc.). The conference will take place on 21 and 23 May in Paris. Proposals should not exceed 300 words, may be written in English or French, and should be submitted before 23 February to the following address : email@example.com.Please include a brief curriculum vitae with your submission, and let us know if your institution is currently unable to fund travel and accommodation costs.