CFP: Social Progress

Submission deadline: May 27, 2020

Conference date(s):
September 9, 2020 - September 11, 2020

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT), University of Manchester
Manchester, United Kingdom

Topic areas


CFA: ‘SOCIAL PROGRESS’ Workshop at MANCEPT 2020, September 9-11.

Narratives of social progress are unfashionable when not frowned upon in contemporary political theory. They are perceived as inescapably entangled with Eurocentric theories of history, colonialism and other forms of Western supremacism. Or they are thought to support, in their teleological versions, utopian end-state political projects that may go astray; or to discount the collateral damages of supposedly progressive social change. Moreover, the multilayered nature of social change seems to be irreducible to the blunt, global normative judgements conveyed by the idea of social progress.

Despite such bad press and conceptual diffculties, narratives of social progress have not withered away. Undesirable states of affairs are sometimes said to belong to bygone eras that nobody expects—or should want to—return. Political conservatives defne their politics in opposition to progress; while their opponents may happily adopt the label of “progressive”. From the perspective of the latter there is still considerable space for further progress, which must motivate socio-political activity.

Further narratives of social progress are less overt, but nonetheless signifcant. Technological change is often conceived as socially progressive, possibly because it could help us to better satisfy needs and fulfil (or create new) desires. Even humans themselves become targets of socially progressive techno-change in talks of ‘human enhancement’. Moreover, some scholars in the historical natural sciences do not shy away any longer to regard human evolution as a history of progress of a kind: we are a successful species, endowed with cumulative culture, which became unprecedentedly cooperative and ecologically dominant.

Finally, philosophers talk of moral progress and debate whether it—if metaethically coherent—is conducive to social progress. The extension of the scope of moral equality, and the repudiation of violence are recurring items in discussions of the alleged progresses in morality.

Cautious philosophical defenses of social progress have been advanced. Possibly, we can talk about progress without teleological implications and blunt judgements about entire chunks of social history. Such alternatives provide room for talks of social progress that, arguably, do play prima facie defensible theoretical roles. For instance, appeals to social progress may perform a constructive epistemic role, namely inviting us to learn from previous instances of desirable social change. But could this conceptual role not be played by other, less controversial and more tractable concepts?

The notion of social progress remains, today, relatively unexplored, despite its pervasivity in other epochs of political theorising. This workshop aims to make advances in clarifying the notion of social progress and discussing its contemporary utility or disutility. Is there social progress? What can we do to foster it? And, regardless of whether social progress exists or not, is any appeal to social progress defensible, and in what circumstances might it be?

We seek conceptual analyses of social progress, normative defenses of talks of social progress, critical studies of social progress narratives, discussions of examples of progress and their political relevance, and other themes of broader relevance to this discussion.

Please send abstracts (500 words max.) to [email protected] and [email protected] by May 27, 2020. Please include identifying information and affliation in the email. Notifcation of acceptance will be sent out by June 3, 2020.

It is necessary to register separarately on the MANCEPT website. The conference fee can also be paid there. Bursaries are available to select speakers. Please see for more information. 

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)