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The Imperial Origins of Social and Political Thought

International Origins of Social and Political Theory

ISBN: 978-1-78714-267-1, eISBN: 978-1-78714-266-4

Publication date: 4 April 2017


The attempt to recover the international origins of social and political thought is motivated by the unsatisfactory fragmentation of modern knowledge – by its failure to account for the intimate connections between theory and history in general and its international dimension in particular – and seeks to overcome these divides. This article provides an analysis of the theory/history divide and its role for the fragmentation of modern knowledge. Theoretically, it shows, this divide is rooted in, and reproduced by, the epistemic foundations of modern knowledge. Historically, the modern episteme arises from a crisis of imperial politics in the 18th century. This analysis suggests that theory, history, and the international are products rather than origins of modern social and political thought. These historical origins thus do not provide the basis for more integrated forms of knowledge. They do, however, reveal how the fragmentation of knowledge itself simultaneously serves and obscures the imperialist dimension of modern politics.




I would like to thank Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson for the invitation to contribute to this project and for a wonderfully constructive and interesting workshop. Aleksandra Thurman, David Blaney, Helen Kinsella, Jan Tattenberg, Daniel Levine, Oliver Kessler, Patricia Owens, Ricarda Hammer, and Samuel Chambers all provided excellent ideas and feedback. Particular thanks to Jeppe Mulich for the many useful references. I am also grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their engagement, enthusiasm, and very helpful suggestions for improvement.


Jahn, B. (2017), "The Imperial Origins of Social and Political Thought", International Origins of Social and Political Theory (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 32), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 9-35.



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