Historiographic Positionality and the Role of the Social Scientist: An Application of Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Phenomenology to the Study of History-Writing in Eastern Europe

In this paper, I reflect on the discipline of historiography and its application to conflict resolution. I start from concepts found in the phenomenological writings of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. I expand upon these to discuss the concept of positionality within time and space to uncover the context-specificity of nationalist historical tropes. I provide a brief overview of other applications of phenomenology to other branches of the social sciences. In order to illustrate these concepts, I use examples of temporal and spatial positionality from Turkish historiography. I thereby explore the manner in which an understanding of the individual’s location and perspective vis-à-vis the State can be employed to grasp the changes that the writing of Turkish has undergone over the last century. I conclude with suggestions on a method to transcend the positional fixity contained within national meta-narratives, and to refocus history on individuals and their stories rather than the agenda of the state.