Associated Publications

chicago studies in practices of meaning


In collaboration with the University of Chicago Press, 3CT has also established a new interdisciplinary book series, Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning. The series has distinctive theoretical goals, as signaled by its title. Following the so-called “cultural turn” the study of culture became a major preoccupation of nearly all disciplines in the social sciences – with the major exception of economics – and has given rise to the fledgling discipline, or quasi-discipline, of cultural studies. We adopt a rigorous interdisciplinary theoretical perspective, designated by our use of the terms “practice” and “meaning” rather than “culture,” as the latter has been used so promiscuously over the past two decades in both academic and popular discourse as to proliferate a host of unacknowledged ambiguities.

Our editors, who come from four different fields of social science: Anthropology (William Mazzarella and Kaushik Sunder Rajan), Sociology (Andreas Glaeser), History (William Sewell), and Political Science (Lisa Wedeen), are interested in the widest possible range of practices of meaning – in ritual, political theory, work, urban design, religion, shopping, social movements, mu- sic, economic exchange, science, leisure, kinship – which is to say, any arena or aspect of human life in which meanings are made. 3CT solicits distinguished scholarly manuscripts that share our methodological and epistemological commitments to innovation in interpretive social science, to probing interdisciplinary contact, and to work combining rigorous theoretical reflection with empirically rich accounts of local experience.

selected publications

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Critical Historical Studies Journal


Critical Historical Studies is pleased to welcome to the editorial collective Judit Bodnaran urban sociologist at the Central European University and author of Fin de Millénaire Budapest (Minnesota). Judit will officially join as a co-editor of CHS in January 2019.


Critical Historical Studies is a new interdisciplinary journal devoted to historical reflections on politics, culture, economy, and social life, edited by William Sewell (3CT Fellows) and Andrew Sartori (New York University). CHS features research on the implications of socio-economic transformations for cultural, political, and social change. In the broad tradition of Critical Theory, CHS will explore the complex connections between cultural form and socio-economic context and promote a reflexive awareness of the researcher’s own position in the history of global capitalist society.

Critical Historical Studies publishes monographic research articles, theoretical articles, review essays, and critical reflections on current cultural, political, and scholarly issues. The journal aims to foster interdisciplinary exchange among scholars across the entire range of the social sciences and humanities, and publishes work on all historical eras and regions of the world.

volume 5 number 1 spring 2018

Charles Walton, University of Warwick                                                                                                                             “Capitalism’s Alter Ego: The Birth of Reciprocity in Eighteenth-century France”


This essay traces the concept of reciprocity from its emergence in French philosophy during the Enlightenment to its recent growth in the social sciences. After charting the term’s accelerated use in French and English in the modern period, the author shows how its meaning has continually wavered between exchange equivalence (barter) and generosity/obligation (the gift, the Golden Rule). During the Enlightenment, these meanings converged in efforts to naturalize commerce and justify liberal-economic reforms. A free-market society, it was argued, would be fair and bountiful. Upon the failure of such reforms in the early French Revolution, reciprocity and its new synonym “fraternity” became detached from economic liberalism. As capitalism became increasingly associated with profit and wealth inequality in the nineteenth century, reciprocity became the watchword of capitalism’s critics, who tried to conceptualize social bonds in terms other than those offered by homo œconomicus

Terence M. Dunne, National University of Ireland                                                                                                       “Letters of Blood and Fire: Primitive Accumulation, Peasant Resistance and the Making of Agency in Early-Nineteenth-Century Ireland”


Agrarian social conflict played a major role in shaping Irish economic development from the 1760s to the 1930s. In the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-centuries bands of peasants known as whiteboys defended customary rights to land with intimidation and violence. This article analyses a collection of 135 so-called threatening letters from rural parts of the eastern province of Leinster in the year 1832. In the letters are found traces of the cultural practices through which peasants resisting primitive accumulation sustained their sense of collective efficacy. These traces have two main forms: expressions of pan-regional collective identity and appropriations from ruling class status/power displays. A sense of agency was central to the exercise of actual agency — an agency which retarded processes of primitive accumulation and contributed to a situation whereby the spread of the British model of capitalist agriculture was confined and peasant production survived into the twentieth-century.

Haeden Stewart, University of Chicago                                                                                                                           “The Arrival of Tradition: The Influence of the Tradition Concept on Missionary-Indigenous Interactions in the Nineteenth-Century Pacific Northwest Coast”


Tradition is a paradoxical concept, on one hand defining a set of practices as external or resistant to the dynamics of global modern society, but on the other hand making sense of these practices in references to modernity itself.  Colonial scholarship has struggled with this paradox, taking the appearance of tradition as situated outside modernity at face-value.  By historicizing the logical form of the concept of tradition this paper offers a critique of its use in colonial scholarship.  Examining the Oblate missionization of British Columbia in the nineteenth century as a case study, this paper tracks how the logical form of tradition articulated with the development of capital, how it defined Oblate ideology, how it was adopted by various Indigenous communities to make sense of their own social transformation in relation to broader global transformations, and ultimately how it was adopted as a critical analytic by colonial scholars. 

Hadas Weiss, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology                                                                                  Critical Reflection: “Longevity Risk: A Report on the Banality of Finance Capital”


Longevity risk exemplifies how finance capital makes people's investments against themselves appear both self-serving and collectively enriching by assimilating the insurancial risk pool with the financial investment. I develop this argument by drawing on Frank Knight and Georg Lukács, whose contrasting commentaries on the early stages of finance capitalism disturb some of the taken for granted aspects of its present articulation. People place their unspent earnings in risk pooling systems as a precautionary measure. My goal is to make explicit that their resources are reinvested and managed, not to allay and exploit risks to their lives, but to allay and exploit the risk of their lives, insofar as these lives do not serve accumulation.

Phillip Henry, University of Chicago and Benjamin Y. Fong, Arizona State University                                          Review Essay: “A Whole Climate of Critique: Psychoanalytic Politics Between Vitality and Obsolescence”


Over recent years, historical scholarship on psychoanalysis has expanded dramatically.  In addition to a wealth of new studies, a new mode of historical analysis can be discerned.  Careful to avoid the polemics of earlier decades, recent scholarship has generally assumed a more distanced and skeptically relativist attitude towards its object – suspending claims of veracity and validity in favor of questions concerning the cultural influence of psychoanalysis.  While it embraces the more critically balanced attitude that has distinguished this scholarship, Eli Zaretsky’s Political Freud: A History departs from much of this work in its insistence on the vital contribution of Freudianism to the work of social and political critique.  Using Zaretsky’s work as a point of departure, this essay surveys developments across the rapidly growing field of scholarship.  Throughout we argue for the need to revive a critical Freudianism in and through the very mode by which psychoanalysis is historicized.