The State of ‘the State of Nature’ in the History of Political Thought: 9th Annual Cambridge Graduate Conference in Political Thought and Intellectual History

The State of ‘the State of Nature’ in the History of Political Thought: 9th Annual Cambridge Graduate Conference in Political Thought and Intellectual History

Graduate students of the Faculty of History at Cambridge.
Bateman Auditorium, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
United Kingdom
Vom - Bis
13.05.2016 -
Daniel Allemann

Keynote speaker: Dr. Tim Beasley-Murray (UCL)

We currently invite paper proposals for the ninth annual Cambridge Graduate Conference in Political Thought and Intellectual History, entitled ‘The State of “the State of Nature” in the History of Political Thought’, scheduled to be held Friday, May 13, 2016. Ever since Hobbes’s mighty Leviathan, scholars have invoked the concept of the state of nature in order to describe a largely antagonistic state of affairs politics is believed to hold for those who do not properly submit themselves before the will of the sovereign. Yet, at the same time, there remains a strong adherence among readers of pre-Hobbesian literature, Locke, Rousseau and even Nietzsche to qualify this contentious portrayal of nature and society, so as to attest for what they feel to be more honorable configurations of the pre-legal body politic. This political portmanteau of the state of nature as somehow feral and belligerent while also dutiful and righteous stands at present as essential to historians’ discussions of political thought, most notably in light of the advances made by more recent ‘illiberalist’ readings of democracy and liberalism in the modern American state.

Nevertheless, should historians of political thought proceed accordingly with this conceptual equivocation? This conference welcomes papers that address this and other questions pertinent to ‘the state’ of the state of nature and society in the history of political thought. As well, we welcome presentations which consider the state of nature as a specifically patriarchal concept, capable of subjugating women in addition to men under threat of life without liberty. Analyses of the state of nature in the history of political thought might also ask how nature and society have served to advance the cause of intellectual history as the “history in ideas”, the discussion of gender as a performative act, or the re-conceptualization of cultural and religious entities as rational agents. Those papers which seek to address individual theorists might propose new directions in exegetical readings of nature as a canonical (or indeed non-canonical) theme.

Not to be excluded, we are also interested in how nature may provide the historian of political thought with a means by which to address the historiographical discussion of sovereignty as bio-political. Those applicants who attempt to do so are welcomed to approach political thinkers as historical actors in their own right, bound in both mind and body to the cultural and social mores, conventions and biases of their own epoch. In conclusion, we invite papers which appeal to the idea of the state of nature in the history of political thought as a crucial endeavor in the humanities and a topic which binds the historian ever-more closer with her fellow scholars in women’s and gender studies, sociology, political theory and contemporary philosophy.

This conference will feature a keynote address from Dr. Tim Beasley-Murray, Senior Lecturer in the History of European Thought and Culture (UCL). Participants will be invited to present their work in themed panels, which will be followed by question and answer sessions. Cambridge has a longstanding reputation for the study of political thought and intellectual history, and conference participants can expect to receive collegial feedback from members of the History Faculty. Subject to availability, accommodation will also be provided for speakers and an effort will be made to subsidize travel costs.

Interested graduate students should send a 500-word abstract and an academic résumé to by 25 March 2016. The conference programme will be finalized by 1 April 2016. For additional information, please visit



Daniel Allemann

Gonville and Caius College

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