Scope and Concerns
New Directions for the Humanities
The Humanities Conference and The International Journal of the Humanities provide spaces for dialogue and for the publication of new knowledge which builds on the past traditions of the humanities whilst setting a renewed agenda for their future.
We live in an era which seems to be dominated by the rationalisms of science-technology and economics-commerce. These appear daily as enormously powerful forces, driving us alternately to doom or salvation. They make their domineering presence felt ever more heavily in places of learning and research, and often at the expense of the humanities.
There is no science-technology, however, without the human. There is no commerce-economics without the human. Not only are the humanities a third major area of inquiry; the object of study of the humanities is integral to the other two. The humanities interrogate the nature of the human and build a normative agenda for the human, developing programs of action for the humane, the humanistic, human rights, global humanity, the locally humanised ...
The western roots of science-technology are the Greek concept of ‘techne’, and its Latin equivalent ‘ars’. These roots tell of a narrowing of definition in modern times, and of a particular kind—it is a narrowing which dehumanises science-technology. ‘Techne’ and ‘ars’ meant art, craft and science, a kind of practical wisdom involving both doing (application of technique, using tools) and reasoning (understanding the principles underlying the material and natural world). These ‘Arts’, were the stuff of human artifice, and the result was always an aesthetic (those ‘arts’) as well as instrumental artfulness that can only be human. Now is the time to broaden the agenda of science-technology once again, and how better than to redefine them as ‘Arts’?
Indeed, our times may well demand such a redefinition. The new technologies and sciences of informatics, for instance, are infused to a remarkable degree with the human of the humanities: the human-centred designs which aim at ‘useability’; the visual aesthetics of screen designs; the language plays of computer interfaces and mobile communications devices; the ontological schemas of the semantic web; the information architectures of data archives; the logics of machines which assist human intelligence; and the literariness of the code that drives them. So too, the new technologies and sciences of biotics uniquely inveigle the human—when considering, for instance, the ethics of bioscience and biotechnology, or the sustainability of the human presence in natural environments.
Returning to roots again, the Greek ‘oikonomi’ or the Latin ‘oeconomia’ integrate the human in ways now all-too-easily lost to the more narrowly understood contemporary definitions of ‘economy’ and ‘commerce’. In the modern world, these words have come to refer to reflection and action pertaining to the domains of paid work, the production of goods and services, and their distribution and market exchange. At their etymological source, however, we find a broader realm of action—the realm of material sustenance, of domesticity (the Greek ‘oikos’/household and ‘nemein’/manage), of work as the collaborative project of meeting human needs, and of thrift (economising), not just as a way of watching bottom lines, but of conserving human effort and natural resources.
Today more than ever, questions of the human arise in the domain of the economy-commerce, and these are profoundly ones of human interests, needs and purposes. Drawing on the insights of the humanities and a renewed sense of the human, we might for instance be able to address today’s burning questions of economic globalisation and the possible meanings and consequences of the ‘knowledge economy.’
The Humanities Themselves
And what of the humanities in themselves and for themselves? To the world outside of education and academe, the humanities are all too often regarded as at best ephemeral or at worst esoteric. They appear to be of less significance and practical ‘value’ than the domains of science-technology and economy-commerce.
But what could be more practical, more directly relevant to our very existence than disciplines which interrogate culture, place, time, subjectivity, consciousness, meaning, representation and change? And name themselves anthropology, archaeology, art, communication, arts, cultural studies, geography, government, history, languages, linguistics, literature, media studies, philosophy, politics, religion and sociology? This is an ambitious program even before mention of the social sciences and the professions of community service which can with equal justification be regarded as subjects of the humanities, broadly understood.
Within this highly generalised scope, The Humanities Conference and The International Journal of the Humanities have two particular interests:
The humanities is a domain of learning, reflection and action which is a place of dialogue between and across epistemologies, perspectives and content areas.
Globalism and Diversity
The humanities is to be considered, not as a place which attempts to refine a singular essence for an agenda of humanism, but rather one which recognises the dynamics of differences in human history, thought and experience, and negotiates the contemporary paradoxes of globalisation.
It is in these unsettling places that the humanities might be able to unburden modern knowledge systems of their restrictive narrowness.
The conversations at the Conference and the publications in the Journal range from the broad and speculative to the microcosmic and empirical. Whatever their scope or perspective, the over-riding concern is to redefine the human and mount a case for the humanities. At a time when the dominant rationalisms are running a course that seems at times to be drawing humanity towards ends that are less than satisfactory, the disciplines of the humanities reopen the fundamental question of the human—for highly pragmatic as well as redemptory reasons.