The contemporary West cherishes few values more than novelty, invention, and experimentation. But the term that encapsulates this ethos—innovation—once had an entirely antithetical meaning. From antiquity through the nineteenth century, innovation was a prohibited activity and a pejorative synonym for rebellion, a mainstay of early modern polemicism that described a transgressive encroachment on the divine right to change the world.
This talk recovers the widespread seventeenth-century belief that human-led change was inherently dangerous in order to reassess two interconnected historical shifts associated with the birth of modernity: the emergence of new theorizations of sovereignty centered on the right to enact change; and the rise of empiricism as the signature method of the scientific revolution.
Resituating these political and epistemological shifts as a response to the problem of innovation—its simultaneous forbiddenness and desirability—Mazzaferro argues that the elevation of experiential knowledge over received wisdom made possible more improvisational forms of rule. Moreover, he contends that New World colonialism was the key staging ground for this process of rehabilitating—and, ultimately, monopolizing—innovation. Elite Euro-Christian settlers developed a new science of politics that allowed them to cite the Americas’ observably exceptional circumstances as a justification for colonialism’s manifest innovations. In so doing, they foretold a modern notion of sovereignty whose colonialist roots have been looked over by the contemporary enthusiasm for innovation.
Presentations in the Cultures and Knowledge Workshop Series range across historical and disciplinary boundaries, and provide a major component of SIFK's inquiry into the process of knowledge formation and transmittal from antiquity to the present day. Research-in-progress is welcomed and will receive constructive feedback.
This workshop will take the format of a presentation followed by a discussion. Lunch will be provided to those who RSVP. Due to space restrictions, our workshops have a maximum attendance of 40. Registered guests will be seated first.
Persons with disabilities who need an accommodation in order to participate in this event should contact firstname.lastname@example.org in advance.