WiSe 15/16: Civilization, critique of civilization and the creation of a global order
Since the late eighteenth century the figure of stages of development allowed to map the increasing perception of global difference onto a temporal frame: each society was held to move from ... read more
Since the late eighteenth century the figure of stages of development allowed to map the increasing perception of global difference onto a temporal frame: each society was held to move from beginnings in savagery and barbarism to increasing levels of civility and civilization Within this framework, societies were assigned different points of departure, moving toward a common end at different speed. Therefore, savages, barbarians and civilized societies were held to co-exist simultaneously. Notable in the epoch of high imperialism, this ordering of difference went hand in hand with the creation of a global hierarchy.
Throughout the nineteenth century colonial thinkers and actors rarely challenged the model as such – neither its linearity, nor its definitions what constituted civilization. What they did challenge was their society’s place in the global hierarchy, whether they took up the civilizing mission on their own or claimed that they were already more civilized than recognized by the European powers. This changed before the First World War, and increasingly so through the war experience. Critique of civilization, which rapidly became a global phenomenon, was directed both against the temporalities of the civilizing model, its interpretation of history as a story of progress, and against what had been viewed as the characteristics of modernity: urbanization, industrialization and mechanization, but also individualization and rationalization.
The seminar aims at tracing this global process, roughly between the 1870s and the 1930s, focusing geographically on Russia, Germany, the US and India (other regions can be integrated, if students take the initiative to bring in their special knowledge). Methodologically, we will alternate between sessions engaging with secondary literature on the one hand and primary sources on the other. close