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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Human Scale: Time on a Human Scale Public Lecture series - The Making of Progressive Political Time in Inter-war Britain

9th May 2017, 18:15 to 19:15, PG20, Pemberton Lecture Rooms, Palace Green, Emily Robinson (University of Sussex)


The Making of Progressive Political Time in Inter-war Britain

What did it mean to be ‘progressive’ in inter-war Britain? In this lecture, Emily Robinson explores the political connotations of the word – from the left-liberal tradition invoked by the Popular Front, through the centrist focus on ‘getting things done’, to far right call for radical action. This was more than a dispute about the envisaged end point of progress. It involved differing conceptions of the nature of politics, time, and modernity. The very nature of the parliamentary system inspired both whiggish celebration and violent critique. Cutting across ideological disputes were differences of political style: the modernist politics of expertise ran up against alternative visions which rejected linear development in favour of more esoteric and experimental temporalities. All of these co-existed with an avowedly anti-progressive critique of British modernity and the liberal democracy on which it rested.


Dr Emily Robinson is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sussex, a Commissioning Editor of Renewal, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She is the author of The Language of Progressive Politics in Modern Britain (Palgrave, 2017) and History, Heritage and Tradition in Contemporary British Politics: past politics and present histories (Manchester University Press, 2012). Emily was awarded her PhD from the University of London in 2010, and has held postdoctoral fellowships at the universities of Nottingham and East Anglia

Time on a Human Scale: modernity and the present in Europe, 1870-1930

On what scale do modern humans experience the flow of time? Can the passage of time in modernity be understood with concepts such as progress, revolutionary rupture or acceleration? Or do modern societies and cultures find a more ‘human’ scale of time – that of the present and near future – more conducive to living together? Many scholars have drawn attention to the phenomenon of ‘social acceleration’ in modern culture. And the dream of a utopian future has been at the heart of the modern imagination. But as these timeframes of the future have challenged and disturbed European society, it is increasingly important to find a way to understand the idea of the present, the most intimate scale of human existence.

From the later nineteenth century, artists, philosophers, politicians and sociologists tried to put human experience back into the modernist vision of change and progress. Pragmatic social reform, sociology, and the management of day-to-day politics reflected a sense of ‘disenchantment’ with the time-frames of social upheaval. But this shift to the present, away from the modernist dream, was in turn shaken up by the experience of World War, mass exile and genocide. Ultimately, these violent ruptures showed that Europe must re-calibrate its vision of time, finding a new ‘human scale’ for social and political change.

With an interdisciplinary workshop on 21st and 22nd September 2016 involving senior and upcoming scholars from around the UK, and a distinguished speaker series commencing 23rd November running through until May 2017 which will bring European scholars to Durham, this project will develop new perspectives on how the modern vision of time was recalibrated. It seeks a new understanding of the ‘human scale’ of time in philosophy, politics, literature, art and sociology. With the period 1870-1930 as its testing-ground, this interdisciplinary project offers both a new temporal perspective on this critical period in European history, and an opportunity to ask how European society in the early twenty-first century might itself benefit from the recalibration of time ‘on a human scale’.

All lectures are open to the public; dates, times, venues and speakers noted in the full calendar of events.

Contact Julian Wright, Department of History, for further information.

Contact for more information about this event.