Democracy Needs the Humanities

Tuesday 30 October 2012, 5.30PM to 19:00

“Democracy Needs the Humanities” -- but why and for what? Martha Nussbaum's impassioned 2010 call to arms, Not for Profit, the founding statement of the Humanities Research Centre, poses an ongoing challenge for scholars across the fields of the humanities and social sciences. In a short, urgent, informal discussion, led by scholars from English, Philosophy and History of Art, this Lightning Rods seminar will address some of the potential implications of Nussbaum's statement from a number of disciplinary and interdisicplinary perspectives. We will explore the opportunities and challenges facing the humanities in the chillingly austere context of the coalition and Browne Report.

Questions we might consider include:

  • If democracy needs the humanities, does the current coalition government recognise that claim? Or does it think that democracy needs STEM subjects and the social sciences more?
  • Is the relationship between democracy and the humanities reciprocal and do the humanities need democracy in the same way? If not, how can the claims of the humanities and democracies be ranked or reconciled?
  • What does democracy need most from the humanities: our creative, aesthetic, critical, intellectual, communicative, or interpretive capacities? Does democracy need particular disciplines within the humanities more than others?
  • Alternatively, do the humanities now urgently need to critique current characterisations of democratic projects, and the assumptions underlying them?
  •  Are the elitist humanities even predicated on democratic values?
  •  Finally, if democracy does need the humanities, do we want to be needed or would we rather be wanted? After all, what kinds of language have the humanities and contemporary politicians developed to think about,respond to, make invisible, or stigmatise need and neediness? Is need a good place to think, relate, work, or make policy and strategy from? Is the attribution of need ever likely to lead to pacific, productive, democratic relations? Should such a powerful affective force even have a place in politics and in the academy? And, if so, what does it do to claims, within the humanities and within democratic rhetoric, of the claim that sober rationality represents our best hope for a common language?

Location: The Treehouse, Humanities Research Centre, Berrick Saul Building

Admission: All welcome