From 21 to 23 June 2023, the international conference “History and Theory of Compromises” took place at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in Essen. During this conference, the first results of our research network “Cultures of Compromise” (Universities of Duisburg-Essen, Münster and Bochum) were discussed with international guests. This collaborative research project is funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The project considers compromise as an omnipresent but insufficiently studied term that is difficult to define in detail; the conference dealt with central questions such as the premises, conditions, and consequences of compromise, and the possibility of distinguishing compromise from similar terms such as ‘deal’ or ‘agreement’. Trust and power relations emerge as preconditions of compromise; at the same time, compromise is often seen as a reason for further conflict or compromise.
In five panels, the conference participants explored compromise in theory and through historical examples. While the first panel was primarily concerned with the conditions of compromise from a philosophical and political perspective, the speakers of the second panel investigated historical examples of compromise. In the following three panels, compromise was investigated in connection to a premodern perspective, to questions of in- and exclusion, and to the idea of living with compromise. The first keynote speaker, Alin Fumurescu (University of Houston), delved into the connection between shame and compromise, self-formation, and political culture. He was followed by Elizabeth Anthony (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC) on the second day of the conference, who studied the return of Viennese Jews after World War II, focusing on compromises made with one’s own self. The final keynote, given by Yusuke Hirai (University of Tsukuba), offered an introduction to the role of compromise in civic education and the question of its applicability to the Japanese context. In their concluding remarks, the organizers re-emphasized the value of investigating compromise from a multidisciplinary perspective. While several theoretical and conceptual questions remain to be answered, the international conference provided room for new impulses and especially invited further thought on the question of intrapersonal forms of compromise.