A Project of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research in Cooperation with the Einstein Forum, Potsdam

Berliner Colloquien zur Zeitgeschichte

Berliner Colloquienzur Zeitgeschichte

»Exit Options«: Imperial Rule in Times of CrisisHosted by Bernd Greiner, Dierk Walter and Claudia Weber

1 and 2 July 2011

A new research project of the Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung focuses on crises of imperial power and the inherent tensions between stability and transformation or decline. In this context it is important to avoid a teleology of decline that springs from the common juxtaposition of »anachronistic« empires with »modern« nation-states. The same is true for any simplification of imperial crises down to the level of crises of the projection of political power—both inwardly and outwardly.

We are interested in the options for action that imperial elites in crises of power generate—whereby the perception of a crisis of power must not necessarily match the social consciousness of crisis, although they do mutually impact one another. 

It is against the background of these overarching, pluralistic and thoroughly conflicting crises, that our fundamental understanding of »empire« becomes one of a complex phenomenon with numerous actors in both the center and the periphery. As discussed during the colloquium, the cohesion of the empire is not solely and permanently based on a monolithic politico-military power structure and the exercise of force. It is as well a result of persistent negotiation processes involving offers and affiliation within imperial structures.

The resort to force, the renegotiation of offers of imperial integration and the transformation of the exercise of political power remain options for action whose success or failure defines an empire’s ability to adapt and survive. Do imperial elites persist in rigidly upholding their rule or dominance through the deployment of repressive force, even at the cost of the collapse of their imperial positions and, in the worst case, the empire itself—or do they weigh the interests of essential and peripheral positions that enable the empire’s survival through other means such as a partial transformation of imperial rule, or by surrendering individual positions of power so as to stabilize others? Are the elites therefore capable of viewing a crisis as a chance for renewing the empire? Of particular interest to us in this regard is the role played by the option to exercise force in the course and outcome of such processes—and when it is considered and under what conditions it is excluded from consideration.  

Conference language was German.



Interview with Dierk Walter

Bernd Greiner, Klaas Voß, Dierk Walter and Claudia Weber in Mittelweg 36 (in German)