Monday, September 12, 2011

"The Politics of Interpretation and the Interpretation of Politics," Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, September 23-24, 2011.

Within the last fifty years, interpretation has become one of the most important intellectual paradigms of humanities and social sciences scholarship. Theories about law and literature, philosophy and political thought, history and theology all rely on textual interpretation. Issues such as the role of intentions in the interpretation of texts, the question of whether texts determine, or constrain, interpretations of them, and how much, if any, contextual information is required for their understanding, concern all those disciplines, and call for cross-disciplinary collaboration and exchange. Finally, the simultaneous proliferation of certain interpretive approaches such as ‘hermeneutics’, ‘deconstruction’, and ‘feminist (re)readings’ of texts across disciplinary divides has shown the permeability of these boundaries, and has thus made this call for collaboration even more pertinent.

This conference will provide a setting in which distinguished proponents and critics of some of the prevalent interpretive approaches currently used in humanities and social sciences research are able to engage, for the first time, in a rigorous debate about the advantages and costs of each approach, and to discuss the political assumptions that inform them, as well as aims that drive them.

One of the primary goals will be to evaluate the validity of each interpretive method in reference to the readings it produces when applied to texts. Some of the key questions in this respect include: What is it that each method can or cannot claim to be able to show? To what extent do these methods succeed both in theory and in practice? Do they prevent or improve our understanding of texts? A second focus of the conference is to shed light upon the political dimension of interpretive enterprises and to decode their ideological presuppositions. There has virtually been no interdisciplinary exchange about the question of whether these approaches are ideologically sustained, and if so, whether ideologically charged approaches in turn induce interpreters to systematically ignore some aspects of texts, whilst emphasizing others. Here, consequences will be drawn for the interpretation of politics, widely construed.

In order to address these questions properly, the conference will be structured around panels of up to four presenters each on ‘Strauss and Esoteric Reading’, ‘Contextualist Approaches’, ‘Hermeneutics’, ‘Deconstruction’, ‘Feminist Interpretations’, and ‘Philosophy, Law & Interpretation’.  In so doing, the conference seeks to create a workshop environment in which individual methods are considered as what they are—the results of methodological disputes between different schools of interpretation rather than unconnected monolithic blocs.

Contact: jens.olesen@POLITICS.OX.AC.UK

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