Modernity: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It
BISA Historical Sociology and International Relations Workshop
Monday 22nd September 2014

Historical sociology is oriented around the study of modernity. But is modernity out of date? Studies of modernity have often suffered from two distorting effects: the rapid expansion in the power of a small group of (mostly) Western states over the past two centuries; and the Eurocentric analysis that has accompanied this expansion.

As these distorting effects have started to fade, so a number of critics have argued that the concept of modernity occludes more than it reveals. Modernity is said to privilege the experience of the white West and obscure the coercive practices, not least colonialism, on which Western power has been constructed. At the same time, modernity is said to be suffused in concepts and modes of thinking that legitimate extant power hierarchies, while overwhelming experiences and cosmologies that lie outside its purview. If there are few areas of social science that have been studied as much as modernity, there are few issues that have been more subject to critique.

And yet modernity endures, in analysis and practices of development, law, global governance, security, intervention, revolution, and more. Modernity infuses academic, political and popular debates alike, from those around culture and identity, to those surrounding war and terrorism. If recent decades have seen the emergence of scholarship that ‘can’t live with modernity’, it remains the case that many in the contemporary academy ‘can’t live without it’.

This workshop will examine the substance and value of the ongoing hold of modernity on the international imagination. Paper proposals are welcomed on a range of topics, including but not restricted to:

  • the temporal dimensions of modernity: when is/was modernity in IR?;
  • the spatial dimensions of modernity: where is/was modernity in IR?;
  • the relationship between modernity, imperialism, colonialism and the ‘rise of the West’;
  • the relationship between modernity and various issue areas: war, revolution, intervention, ideology, culture, capitalism, and more;
  • the utility of modernity as an analytical tool in IR.

The workshop is sponsored by the BISA Historical Sociology and IR Working Group: Thanks to funding from BISA, the workshop is free and catering will be provided. Both paper givers and research students will also receive a travel allowance of up to £100.

If you would like to present a paper at the workshop, please send an abstract of c. 150 words to George Lawson ( and Justin Rosenberg ( by 15 May 2014. Please also get in touch with George and Justin if you have any questions about the workshop.