Spaces of circulation and colonial/imperial landscapes: challenges and criticisms


Kapil Raj, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), France
Thomás A. S. Haddad, University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil
Matheus Alves Duarte, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), France


Discussion of processes that trespass political, geographical, and cultural borders has increased among historians of science in the past years. Following this “global turn” in the history of science, the idea of “circulation” has emerged to explain, among others, events like scientific missions, gathering of specimens, formation of collections, and the role of intercultural settings in the construction of knowledge. However, the popularization of the concept of circulation for describing and making sense of a multitude of situations of knowledge production that aspire to go beyond the local instigates criticism from some scholars. According to the critics, the term can hide power asymmetries and hegemonies that were intrinsic to processes of knowledge production, especially when they took place in spaces subjected to imperial ruling and colonial domination. Moreover, the very theoretical status of the term is contested: is circulation a concept? A methodological injunction to the historian? Something to be sought for and evinced in isolated case studies? And what is the relationship between circulation and other terms that aspire to transcend local scales, such as “diffusion”, “transfer” or “transmission”?
Taking these debates and open questions as its main framework, this symposium aims to bring forth the different ways in which circulation is being used and understood by scholars interested in knowledge production in imperial and colonial settings. Participants are welcome to explore the possibilities and the methodological and theoretical challenges inherent to this approach, to actively probe its limits, and to face its criticisms head-on. Albeit empires and colonial settings themselves constitute a multiplicity of deeply diverse historical entities, the symposium welcomes contributions that focus on the production of knowledge in this kind of political formation, European or not, between the sixteenth century and the end of World War I. Thus, contributors are encouraged to discuss how historical actors have shaped spaces of circulation in, but not limited to, the colonial landscapes that took form in this period.
Without being exhaustive, the following list of subjects helps to establish the tenor of the symposium:

  • circulation of knowledge, asymmetries of power, hegemonies
  • scientific institutions and empires
  • material and political aspects of the circulation of objects
  • circulation of knowledge across empires, outside of empires, or against imperial checks
  • the role of go-betweens, brokers, translators
  • circulation and markets
  • the production of localities and of the “global”

If you are interested in participating in the panel, please send a working title and abstract (200-500 words) by no later than Tuesday December 12th, 2017.

Contact email

Deadline for paper submission

Decembre 12, 2017