The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.


The ‘moment of theory’ is a phrase used to characterise the impact that a group of associated theoretical discourses had on a variety of hermeneutic, philosophical, and social scientific disciplines, in the late 1960s and then into the 70s and 80s. Initially the theoretical discourses were characterised as structuralist, but this soon mutated into post-structuralist, which covered a range of associated positions, stretching from transcendental phenomenology, through Derridean deconstruction, to Foucauldian archaeology and genealogy. Recently, some of the participants in this moment have begun to reflect on it – as we can see in works as diverse as Bourdieu’s Pascalian Meditations, Eagleton’s After Theory, and Kriegel’s Michel Foucault aujourd’hui – with varying degrees of affection and regret, sometimes in the biographical register and sometimes with a view to sketching a social or intellectual history. CHED is proposing to advance this process of reflection and reconsideration by inviting a number of leading participants in and/or observers of the moment of theory to present papers on this theme at a dedicated seminar series, to be held over semester 2, 2005 and semester 1, 2006.

We envisage that the topics will be quite varied, including perhaps the impact of phenomenological hermeneutics on traditional forms of literary criticism ; the emergence of cultural studies ; the intrusion of Althusserian Marxism into the domain of its humanist and economistic predecessors ; the confrontation between various kinds of transcendental phenomenology ; the reception of discourse and speech-act theory in historiography ; the entrance of ‘ethnomethodology’ into the field of empirical sociology ; and the appearance of the ‘critical’ and the ‘social’ inside legal studies, to mention some of the most likely instances. The question of what (if anything) links these apparently associated intellectual events will be a central topic for the seminar series. It is at least arguable, however, that the German tradition of transcendental phenomenology – Husserl, Heidegger, Arendt – played a more significant role in the moment of theory than was realised at the time. This may explain the more overt recovery of these thinkers by younger researchers today.

The object of the exercise is to bring intellectual history to bear on the recent intellectual past. Participants may wish to reflect on the role of particular texts ; the significance of exemplary moments of conflict ; the importance of particular (intellectual, institutional, national) contexts ; the work of reception, translation and adjustment ; the transformation of particular disciplines, or the absence of such ; the subsequent history of domains successfully colonised by ‘theory’ ; or the present state of such domains. We are asking all speakers, though, to include historical reflection on the emergence of the moment of theory as a component of their discussions. Neither are we unaware of the loaded nature of this request, given that historical reflection typically played a marginal role in the moment of theory and indeed was often itself consigned to the ‘pre-theoretical’ domain. With participants’ agreement, draft papers will be posted on this website prior to their presentation, providing a cumulative record of proceedings. At the end of the series, a selection of papers will be edited for publication.

Ian Hunter and Peter Cryle


Program for Semester 1, 2006
All sessions on Thursdays at 4-6pm
Venue: CCCS Seminar Room, Forgan-Smith Tower, level 4 (access via the elevator or stairs at the base of tower).

Thurs. 9 March: Genevieve Lloyd ( Sydney ), 'Feminism, 'Theory' and History of Philosophy
Thurs. 30 March: TBA
Thurs. 13 April: Anne Freadman ( Melbourne ), 'Does 'Peirce' have a History?'
Thurs. 27 April: Wayne Hudson ( Griffith ), 'Theory and Fact: The Case of Religion?
Thurs. 11 May: Leela Gandhi (La Trobe), 'Postcolonial Theory and the Crisis of European Man: A Short History' (provisional)
Thurs. 25 May: Peter Cryle (UQ), 'Playful Theory: George Poulet's Phenomenological Thematics'
Thurs. 8 June: Paul Patton (UNSW), 'The Moment of Difference'

2005 Seminars
Below is the program of History of Theory seminars given in second semester of 2005.
Thurs. 28 July: Simon During (Johns Hopkins University), 'Socialist ends: the British New Left, cultural studies and the emergence of academic 'theory''. A version of the paper may be downloaded here
Thurs. 11 August: Ian Hunter ( University of Queensland ), 'Giving Theory a History'
Thurs. 25 August: Conal Condren (UNSW), 'English Historiographical Revisionism: The CambridgeSchool , Intellectual History, and the Very Idea of a Theoretical Moment'
Thurs. 22 Sept: John Frow ( University of Melbourne ), 'Australian Cultural Studies: theory, story, history'
Thurs. 13 Oct: Barry Hindess (ANU), 'The Althusserian Moment and the Concept of Historical Time'
Thurs. 3 Nov: David Saunders (Open University and CHED), 'The Moment of Theory in Critical Legal Studies'

On this site