CFP: POWER AND KNOWLEDGE FROM THE 18TH CENTURY TO TODAY
University of Lorraine (Nancy, France), 24-25 November 2022
Call for Papers
Dating back to the beginnings of Greek democracy and the Platonic conception of the philosopher king, the relations between power and knowledge have recently come back to the fore with the rise of populism or the sanitary crisis. Whether an obstacle to democracy, a means for citizens to control their representatives or a vehicle for regenerating democracy (Mounk, 2018), knowledge now appears, more than ever before, as a constitutive feature of government. This interdisciplinary conference will seek to explore the implications of such relations since the 18th century and to examine to what extent knowledge may establish, legitimize or discredit the forms and figures of political power.
Alongside the democratic ideal, the specialisation and secularisation of knowledge during the Enlightenment gave rise to conceptions of a social order based on knowledge, be it Robert Owen’s utopian schemes, Comtean positivism or the clerisy called for by S. T. Coleridge. As mass democracy spurred the growth and influence of political parties, debating societies and think tanks appeared with the aim of influencing political decision-makers as well as public opinion, precipitating reforms and asserting the dominance of thought over action (Stone & Denham, 2004; Landry, 2021). In the liberal and democratic project, education has come to represent a valuable means of promoting citizenship for reformers ranging from philanthropists, socialists and liberals, to philosophical traditions such as British idealism or American pragmatism (Tyler, 2006; Dewey, 1916). On a broader scale, cultural critics or intellectuals have invoked their learning or expertise to purportedly counterbalance institutional power or to exert influence in the public sphere. That knowledge may imply coercion has been the butt of criticism from multiple traditions. Together with the poststructuralist movement inspired by Michel Foucault or cultural studies, critics of modernity such as Eric Voegelin, hostile to what he deemed a gnostic conception of power, or Carl Schmitt, for whom Hegel’s philosophy implied an “educational dictatorship”, have concurred in their questioning of Enlightenment optimism, dismissing knowledge as a necessary condition for progress and holding it to be the locus of a political struggle.