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The International Origins of Hannah Arendt’s Historical Method

International Origins of Social and Political Theory

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

Publication date: 4 April 2017


This article examines the multiple ways in which Hannah Arendt’s thought arose historically and in international context, but also how we might think about history and theory in new ways with Arendt. It is commonplace to situate Arendt’s political and historical thought as a response to totalitarianism. However, far less attention has been paid to the significance of other specifically and irreducibly international experiences and events. Virtually, all of her singular contributions to political and international thought were influenced by her lived experiences of, and historical reflections on, statelessness and exile, imperialism, transnational totalitarianism, world wars, the nuclear revolution, the founding of Israel, war crimes trials, and the war in Vietnam. Yet, we currently lack a comprehensive reconstruction of the extent to which Arendt’s thought was shaped by the fact of political multiplicity, that there are not one but many polities existing on earth and inhabiting the world. This neglect is surprising in light of the significant “international turn” in the history of thought and intellectual history, the growing interest in Arendt’s thought within international theory and, above all, Arendt’s own unwavering commitment to plurality not simply as a characteristic of individuals but as an essential and intrinsically valuable effect of distinct territorial entities. The article examines the historical and international context of Arendt’s historical method, including her critique of process- and development-oriented histories that remain current in different social science fields, setting out and evaluating her alternative approach to historical writing.




For comments on earlier drafts of this article I would like to thank Beate Jahn, Richard King, Helen Kinsella, Sam Knafo, Daniel Levine, Justin Rosenberg, the editors of the special issue, Tarak Barkawi and George Lawson, and the anonymous reviewers.


Owens, P. (2017), "The International Origins of Hannah Arendt’s Historical Method", International Origins of Social and Political Theory (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 32), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 37-62.



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