Having a complex history, “crisis” has emerged as one of the pivotal notions of political modernity. Thus, reconstructing the ways the discourse of crisis functioned in various contexts and historical moments gives us a unique insight not only into a series of conceptual transformations but also the underlying logic of key political and intellectual controversies. In this respect, the Koselleckian hypothesis, originally focusing on the long shadows of the Enlightenment, but also seeking to point to the roots of political modernity as such, can be tested on later periods and other cultural contexts as well: did the emergence of the discourse of crisis signal—and at the same time contribute to—the radical transformation of political thinking and action through shifting the horizons of expectation? Nevertheless, rather than thinking in the framework stipulated by the binary of Kritik and Krise, and also being somewhat skeptical of the underlying anti-modernist connotations of Koselleck’s seminal early work, we do not offer a “pathogenetic” reconstruction, but seek to inquire into the destructive but also creative sides of describing key components and institutions of modernity as crisis-ridden.

One needs to analyze how the perspective of crisis sheds light on key assumptions of a given historical moment, also pointing towards solutions beyond the closely knit local/national milieu and discovering transnational entanglements. The discourse of crisis is thus not only a framework of temporalization, but also that of spatialization, of modernity, and thus can be turned into a vantage point of a transnational analysis. By studying the ways crisis was experienced, conceptualized, and negotiated might contribute to the understanding of how various visions of time and history shape political thinking and conversely, how political and social reconfigurations frame our assumptions about temporality and spatiality. In this sense, this project is also in dialogue with a number of recent attempts (such as the book by Holly Case) to rethink transnational political and intellectual history from the perspective of recurrent epistemological frames structuring the political and cultural debate. 

As it is evidently not true that the “objective” crisis created “subjective” crisis narratives, it is also farfetched to argue that representations of crisis are completely disengaged from the socio-economic, cultural and political processes and are only meant as discursive weapons to subvert the political order. One has to make important distinctions, both between the different ideological frameworks and also between theories and ideologies of crisis, thus providing a more pluralistic take on different ways crisis was embedded in modern political discourse. While it is often hard to draw the exact borderline between ideological and analytical statements, it is still important to bear in mind that the occurrence of the concept of crisis might indicate very different ideological and mental frames. Likewise, while liberal, conservative, socialist, communist, and fascist diagnoses were in some ways part of the same discussion, they should not be equated as different sides of the same pathology, which might relativize their respective moral and intellectual weight, nor can they be merged with those sociological, philosophical, or historical projects which sought to describe and analyze particular phenomena in the past or the present as crisis-ridden, even if those who put forward these analyses were themselves far from being ideologically neutral. 

The project will revolve around three temporal axes, by which we intend to provide valuable insight into the historical continuities between various discourses of crisis. Those axes pertain to the interwar period (1918-1939), the period of state socialism (1945 to the 1980s), as well as the democratic transition in the region and especially the years following 2008 financial crisis. While paying special attention to each period’s specificities, we aim to study whether certain debates about and discourses of crisis would reappear in slightly different shapes in later historical moments as well, despite radical socio-political transformations. We ask if and in what ways the persistence of these discourses influenced the canonization of certain authors or texts, whether they facilitated the shifting of the horizons of expectation in various historical moments, framed agency, and shaped the understanding of historical processes (e.g., processes of “transition”). Moreover, through studying the recurrent and oftentimes hegemonic crisis discourses and the key controversies thereby implied (e.g., national, women, class, peasant, religious, or racial questions), we seek to explore how such discourses reproduce continuities and patterns in regional political thought and experiences of historical time. While we are interested in the “mainstream” conceptualizations (focusing on the crisis of economy, political institutions, and high culture) we also seek to look at intellectual milieus and debates which were considered “off-center” or remained uncanonical and their reconstruction might provide us with a more nuanced picture of the respective period, such as housing crisis, crisis of gender roles and family, of the church and faith, of the educational system and knowledge itself, of the village and urban life, or ecology. 

The organizing team at Central European University consists of Balázs Trencsényi (Professor, History Department), and the coordinators Isidora Grubački (PhD Candidate, History Department), Lucija Balikić (PhD Candidate, History Department), Una Blagojević (PhD Candidate, History Department), and Orsolya Anna Sudár (PhD Candidate, History Department/CEU Democracy Institute).

Partners: CEU Democracy Institute and Intellectual History in East Central Europe