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Session R4727 (Defining Early Modernity in Ottoman History), 2017
Building upon the work conducted in the context of a shared research project with Daphne Lappa, this contribution examines the historiographical context within which certain particularly popular traits of the idea of early modernity emerged. While discussing such diverse issues as religious identity, state organization, or institutional development, historians and social scientists of the early modern world have increasingly been using the concept of fluidity and a wide range of its cognate terms: accommodation, flexibility, elasticity, tolerance, pragmatism, exchange, encounter, etc. This lexicon has become a virtually indispensable tool for students of early modernity, particularly so those interested in avoiding the pitfalls of modernisation theory. It is no chance that the idea of early modernity acquired a new momentum during the 1990s. At this juncture, the end of the Cold War and the rise of multiculturalism as a political project both exerted an important degree of influence over these currents. The post-Ottoman lands were an ideal historical setting for this new interpretation, and the multi-religious nature of the Ottoman world manifested in both its state and non-state related aspects became a focus of historical attention. This was further boosted by the fact that early modern fluid identities present a major challenge to national teleologies and rigid categories, and rightly so. The flipside, however, is that such an approach more often than not romanticises a cosmopolitan past shuttered by modernity. The present condition of postmodernity or late modernity, understood as the loosening of certain aspects of nation-state governmentality, is further hereby implied as the reflection of early modernity. Far from a mere issue of anachronism, for historians always address the questions and concerns of their time and place, missing in this narrative are social hierarchies and the asymmetrical relations of power between individual and collective agents in different spatial and temporal contexts.