Call for Proposals

HSSA Symposium 2018

UC Berkeley, Mid-November

Proposal Deadline: October 5

Scholars in the humanities and social sciences are invited to present completed and ongoing research at a multidisciplinary symposium hosted by the Humanities & Social Sciences Association. All UC Berkeley visiting postdocs, scholars, and student researchers are welcome to submit texts (essays, articles, book chapters, dissertation sections, etc.) based on completed projects and works-in-progress.

Prospective participants are welcome to submit proposals on any theme. However, they are especially encouraged to submit a proposal that has some connection to the theme of Concepts in Academic Research. Among other things, this will include projects that apply concepts to empirical problems or seek to develop, challenge, or reformulate concepts across a variety of research domains (see below for the full call).

Abstract proposals (maximum 300 words) must be sent by October 5 to Selected participants will be asked to submit a paper by November 5 (3000-7000 words), which will permit close discussion during sessions. Following the symposium, full papers will be considered for publication in an online repository hosted by UC Berkeley following a peer review process.



October 5: deadline for abstract proposals

November 5: deadline for papers and works-in-progress

November 16: presentation at the symposium


Theme: Concepts in Academic Research

Concepts are the building blocks of academic research. And yet we often fail to understand properly how to use conceptual frameworks in order to advance our research. Max Weber made a conceptual breakthrough in his study on ‘the protestant Ethic’, Michel Foucault’s writings on ‘discipline’ and ‘governmentality’ and Ulrich Beck’s notion of ‘risk society’. The use of strong concepts makes a great difference on the impact of our work in the research community and beyond.

Questions of the use of concepts are crucial in the discussions of the quality of academic research writing: Are the concepts the scholar is using relevant for formulation of the study in question? Are they carefully selected and defined? Could other concepts from alternative theoretical traditions have been chosen with better results? Are the concepts used in a manner that is sufficiently sensitive to the empirical material, or do they foreclose the complexities of the social, organizational or historical reality?

Schematically, one might distinguish between three ways of utilizing concepts in academic work. First, one may use a concept to verify, generalize, or encapsulate empirical descriptions. A common strategy is to use a concept as a way to condense and present the overall findings of a research project, thereby advancing its relevance and traction beyond the particular case in question. The concept may serve to guide the choice of data, the focus points of attention, and the final presentation of the entire research project. For instance, a research project may set out to investigate the ‘governmentalization’ of social services for the unemployed. In this case, this project may be critically questioned in terms of how well it reflects the content of Foucault’s original concept, while, at the same time, it may be asked: to what extent does the project succeed in generating original, unexpected insights that extend the concepts beyond the original formulation? We immediately can see that the use of the concept becomes central to any evaluation of the quality of this research project. In sum, in this first usage, the concept serves to encompass and substantiate empirical descriptions.

Second, a study may have as its key objective to critique, challenge and reformulate a particular concept. In this case, the criteria of success is not whether a concept is applied in an adequate manner (that both respects the original definitions of it and produces new empirical insights), but rather whether the study effectively succeeds in contesting a given concept. Such contestation may take place in different ways: factual data may be presented to contest the validity of a received, perhaps, self-evident concept; analytical work may demonstrate the logical contradictions and paradoxes inherent to a concept (formal deconstruction); and the recovering of historical material may display the fundamental contingency and instability of a given concept. Here, work by Derrida and Luhmann and scholars inspired by them would be relevant to the work undertaken.

As a variant of the above approach, one may, third, mobilize a concept from an empirical archive and utilize it in one’s own writing, infusing it with new meanings, perhaps succeeding in redefining the concept altogether. This strategy could be termed ‘conceptual activism’ which rests on the recognition that constructing a concept is inevitably a performative act. This is so, because concepts are never neutral descriptors of reality but are always inserted into already conceptualized social domains. Here, they can have performative effects insofar as they re-describe, for instance, historical processes, the social order, what power is about, or how individuals achieve identity. This strategy of marshalling concepts for particular intellectual-political purposes can be found in some of Foucault’s work. He would often use concepts that he had found in the historical archive and begin using it for his own purposes, mobilizing it for historical descriptions of the emergence of modern ‘biopolitics’ or ‘the governmentalization of the state’. Such conceptual innovations were normally undertaken both as a means of narrating a historical development and as a tool for intervening in a particular theoretical-intellectual context. Historical description by way of concepts would be a tool for addressing or intervening in a particular present. In this case, then, the use of concepts needs to arbitrate between serving as a representational category and as a tool of intervention.

This symposium addresses these issues by both exploring general problematics and potentials related to the use of concepts in academic writing. We wish to emphasize that clarifying the use of concepts is not only pertinent to philosophy, political science and sociological research. It often becomes a crucial issue in ethnographic, anthropological research, for instance when guiding hypothesis are formulated or when findings are synthesized.


Abstract proposals must be submitted by October 5th. Final papers will be due November 5th and should be between 3000 and 7000 words. It is expected that the main analytical challenge/concern of the research are clearly presented in the paper, which we will then discuss in the light of conceptual challenges and potentials.


With the goal of creating dialogue and providing valuable feedback for presenters, we will set aside sufficient time to carefully examine and discuss the papers submitted in smaller groups/sessions that are defined by common themes shared by the participants. Respondents on submitted papers will be assigned.

Publication Possibility:

Following the symposium, there will be an opportunity to be published in HSSA’s online repository housed at UC Berkeley for completed papers. Submitted papers will proceed through a peer-reviewed selection process to ensure the quality and relevance of published works.

Organizing Committee:

Chair: Kaspar Villadsen <>

Bilal Bagis

Li-hsin Hsu

Daniel Kim

Jaehoon Lee

Aleksandra Lis

Mário Sacomano Neto

Chang Oh