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Phone, fax & e-mail:

Tel +358-9-191 23606
Fax +358-9-191 23107


The Research Project Europe 1815-1914

P.O. Box 24
00014 University of Helsinki

Visiting address:

Unioninkatu 40 A
Room A133


Conceptual Histories of the World and Global Translations:
Conceptualisation of the Social and the Economic in African Languages

Stellenbosch 22-23 February 2010

Sponsored by The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Fund

This was the first workshop on the conceptualisation of the social and the economic in African languages. The meeting which was sponsored by The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Fund was organised in Stellenbosch, South Africa in cooperation with the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies and its Wallenberg Centre. This meeting was not only the point of departure for a new team building but also provided input for a book authored by Lars Magnusson and Bo Stråth with the working title The Making of the Modern World: The Global Economic and Social Dynamics. Their book project will also draw on the output from a corresponding Asian team. 
The African team will meet next time in Helsinki 26-27 May 2011. A third meeting is envisaged for Mali in February-March 2012.

Aim and Outline

The more specific aim of the workshop was the conceptualisation of the social and the
economic in the 19th and 20th centuries in a selection of African languages. The
theoretical mindset is strongly influenced by the methodologies of conceptual history, linguistics and historical semantics. The main issue is the validity, applicability and translatability of historical conceptualisations of the social and economic fields and their interactive dynamics.

The semantics of these two entangled spheres are conventionally departing from Western
conceptualisations with an origin in the Antique World. This Western provenience is
arguably problematic in a global world without a Western centre. We want through the series of workshops to establish a transnational epistemological horizon, towards which the European and African conceptualisations of the social and the economic are related on an equal basis. The crucial question is to what extent the Western bias can be transgressed and how global communication across cultures and civilisations can be established.

The horizon we want to establish is not one where the African conceptualisations are
played off against the European but one where European and African semantics are
entangled in historical processes. A frequent argument in the postcolonial critique deals
with a continuous Eurocentric agenda and that therefore full autonomy must be based on
interruption of communication under development of indigenous discourses. The project
wants to challenge this argument and search for possibilities of a non-Eurocentric
transcultural dialogue.

A parallel working-group has already been established for corresponding Asian
conceptualisations. Additional information about the project is posted on:

For the meeting in Stellenbosch contributions in the form of rough outlines were presented
of how the conceptualisation of the social and the economic emerged in 19th or 20th
century African societies. The contributions were both longitudinal covering a longer
period and contextual focussing on a specific historical situation of a certain momentum,
they focussed on semantics in a more structural macro sense and on single texts of great