The Power of the Example (completed)

The project will investigate how examples and understandings of the exemplary have functioned epistemologically, aesthetically and politically in a selection of European traditions and genres during various historical periods.

About the project

The Example has played an unobtrusive, but nonetheless an essential role in European production of knowledge since Antiquity. It represents a form of logic where something concrete, limited and specific is used to support statements of a more general character.

The Example draws together the abstract and the concrete, whole and part, norm and practice, past and present. It has been used in a number of different fields of scholarship such as Rhetoric, Philosophy, Law, Theology, Pedagogy, Literature and History, where there also has been developed, to a lesser or greater extent, a way of thinking regarding the logic and influence of the Example.

The Example can be understood both as an illustration, argument, analysis, proof and as a model. The study of the historical significance of the Example requires therefore both an interdisciplinary and a contextual approach. The project’s goal is to investigate how examples and understandings of the exemplary has functioned epistemologically, aesthetically, morally and politically in a selection of traditions and genres and during various historical periods.


The project  wants to take a closer look at this history of culture and knowledge, and to investigate both variation, interaction and continuity, between genres and between epochs.A focal point for the project’s different parts will be the crises and challenges that the logic of the example has faced during different periods. Historical contextualization is another central concern.The use of examples has had different functions in different social and cultural contexts.

On the one hand, the use of examples belongs to a learned tradition of the elite, based on, among other things, familiarity with relevant models and the competence to distinguish references and to understand intertextuality. In such a context the use of examples has served as a means to create and maintain social and cultural differences and demarcations. On the other hand examples have also been assiduously used in pedagogical and religious contexts directed towards children and “the general public”, and thereby – on the contrary – deemed to be a tool for easily understood and effective communication.

The project wishes to take a closer look at the exchanges between the culture of the elite and folk culture, at the development of new communication patterns and likewise at the changing relationship between text and context. When we look at texts alone, the logic of example can appear relatively uniform over time, but placed in an historical context of social structures, political projects and cultural practices, greater variations assert themselves.

Published Apr. 12, 2010 10:20 AM - Last modified Oct. 28, 2013 9:42 AM