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Language and politics, political theory and practice : a study of the relationship between language, action and conceptual change Mandel, Naomi

Abstract

This essay is premised on two assumptions: first, that concepts change their meaning; second, that the examination of the relationship between language and action - two central components of the public sphere - illuminates the process of change. Three models of conceptual change are critically discussed through their language-action axis. The first, adduced by German historian of concepts Reinhart Koselleck, assumes that conceptual change results from a gap between language and action. The second, put forward by historian of political thought Quentin Skinner, argues that conceptual change is produced by political theorists that are doing something when writing; language, according to this model is (sometimes) a form of action. The third model is derived from the American PC movement, which, it is argued here, presents us with a theory and a practice of conceptual change. According to this model, conceptual change results from a deliberate change of language by social agents. Language, as maintained by this model, is the world; action cannot be discussed separately from language since everything exists only through language. As we move from one model to the next we see that the place language assumes in both political theory and practice is increasing in relation to, and at the expense of, action. This essay argues that the mid-twentieth century "linguistic turn," coupled with the growing influence of postmodernism on political theory and practice, results in a distorted picture of the polls. This weakens the ability of political theory to make intelligible the world around us, and also its effectiveness as a guide for action. This tendency must be remedied i f political theory and practice wishes to remain relevant to the public sphere.

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