Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 July 2019 at The Woodlands Event Centre at Wyboston Lakes, Bedfordshire.
The Academy has been running since 2011. Bringing together a wide range of people of all ages and educational backgrounds, The Academy is a modest attempt to demonstrate the value of scholarship in itself in today’s climate of instrumental approaches to knowledge, the use of universities as social-engineering battering rams and the incessant demands to show value for money. The Academy is now organised by the boi charity.
The theme of The Academy 2019 is Culture Wars: then and now and will examine the nature of contemporary cultural life and ask how and why does culture become politicised. The culture wars that continue to define Western life seem to pit differing identities against each other in the friend or foe dynamic of contemporary debate. Ideas seem to clash – say globalisation against nationalism – but they are hollowed-out abstractions. The debates between say science and religion, church and state, modernism versus tradition, used to represent a dynamic and productive tension. Today the debates seem much less ambitious and they jump around. The culture wars have their roots in the nineteenth-century, culminating in the First World War which marked an end of the authority of tradition but failed to replace it. Why are certain areas chosen as battle grounds for the culture wars: for example in the pre-political sphere of the family, marriage, parenting, and so on? What are the chances for and what might a democratic political culture look like in the twenty-first century?
In advance of The Academy 2019, we’ve produced podcast interviews with three of the lecturers that introduce some of the themes from their sessions.
Will there ever by an end to the culture wars? Professor Frank Furedi
The Personalised Century with Timandra Harkness
Family Matters with Dr Jan Macvarish
Welcome address: On culture
Angus Kennedy – convenor, The Academy
Plenary 1: The emergence of the culture wars
Professor Frank Furedi – sociologist, commentator and author of numerous books, including Populism and the European Culture Wars
The aim of this lecture is to introduce the concept of the culture war, explore its historical context and outline the dominant issues that serve as its focus of conflict. It will explain how the current conflicts over culture are distinct from previous ones, such as the one fought in the nineteenth century. Finally, it will raise questions about one of its current drivers, the changing conceptions of morality and the status of moral authority.
Plenary 2: The role of the state in education culture wars: reflections on the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries
James Tooley – professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne; director, E.G. West Centre; author, The Beautiful Tree
In England & Wales, the state largely got involved in schooling from 1870, some 150 years ago. The cultural elites then didn’t like the popular private – and apparently successful – educational arrangements made by ordinary people, and so progressively imposed their preferred alternative. Once state control over the ethos of education was conceded, however, then every part of a child’s education, understood broadly, was up for grabs. Relationship and Sex Education provides a useful case study of the insidious way the state seeks to extend his grip on every aspect of a child’s upbringing in the 21st century.
Suggested additional reading:
EG West (3rd edition, 1994) Education and the State
Plenary 3: Family matters
Dr Jan Macvarish – sociologist of interpersonal relationships, parenting, family life, health, sex and intimacy; author, Neuroparenting: the expert invasion of family life
At certain times over the past 150 years, the institutionalised form and lived experience of the family have become the sharp focal point for cultural and political anxiety. At others times, there has been a grumbling sense of unease about the place of familial arrangements in modern life, but also a sense of hope that our intimate lives can be a place of positive personal and social change. Attempts to address social problems by changing the way we couple up, reproduce and raise our children have exposed tensions between individual freedom and societal obligations, the boundary between public and private spheres and the relationship between state and citizen. Abortion, marriage, sexual freedom and constraint have all become features of culture war divisions. More recently the turn to ‘parenting’ appears to have taken the heat out of these older debates with more instrumental, less moral arguments approaches to family life coming to the fore. This lecture will trace these developments in order to clarify whether and why, family matters.
Plenary 4: The crisis of bourgeois ideology: from Nietzsche to Heidegger
Dr Tim Black – editor, the spiked review; columnist, spiked
This lecture will be an examination of the broad sweep and trajectory of modernist culture, from the latter half of the nineteenth century to the interwar years.
Plenary 5: The culture of disenchantment: technology, art, Heidegger
Angus Kennedy – author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination; co-editor (with James Panton), From Self to Selfie: a critique of contemporary alienation
Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of the culture industry argued that movies and mass-produced entertainment represented the ‘de-artification’ or commodification of art by capitalism: an inauthentic and formulaic regurgitation of reality that deceived its audiences. The real thing was difficult and hard to understand: modernism separated itself off from mass culture in order to try and save high culture. Heidegger, too, argued that we had become enchanted with technology and needed to find a way back to beauty. Postmodernism took up the debate the other way – looking to debunk the authority of high culture with the irony of kitsch and the elevation of the everyday – moving from abstraction to art as a construct glorifying the role of the artist. Either way, the disenchantment of culture has left us with an ongoing war between low and high, new and old.
- Option 1: Emotion and Reason
Dr Ashley Frawley – senior lecturer in public health, policy, and social sciences at the University of Swansea; author, Semiotics of Happiness: rhetorical beginnings of a public problem
From self-esteem to loneliness and the seemingly all-encompassing (and ever expanding) umbrella of ‘mental health’, the public sphere appears saturated with claims about emotional damage. Such claims to emotional harm seem to have a conversation-stopping effect, exacting a powerful sense of consensus, and dictating what can and can’t be said about a variety of issues. This lecture will explore the role played by dismissals of the rational human subject and the associated decline of rational critiques of the present in the degeneration of public debate into never-ending culture wars.
- Option 2: The New Radicals: conservatism as counterculture?
Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos – lecturer in sociology and criminology at the University of York; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: from New Left to Occupy
In 1992, conservative Republican Pat Buchanan declared the launch of a ‘culture war’ for the heart of the US. In the late 2000s, following the rise of the Tea Party movement, Andrew Breitbart suggested that politics is downstream from culture, and his young protégés like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro created turmoil in university campuses. Trump rode the bandwagon of conservative anti-establishment sentiment to the White House, whereas his opponents linked him to the racism of the Alt-Right. Meanwhile, figures like Jordan Peterson made popular and edgy ideas around ‘sorting yourself out’ and traditional masculine values. Are conservative ideas now the ‘counter’ to a ‘progressive’ establishment?
Choice of three lectures:
- Sixties counterculture
Dr Greg Scorzo
This talk will unpack the assumption that today’s progressive left is a continuation of Sixties left-wing politics. It will be argued that both the Sixties civil-rights movement and Sixties counterculture were broadly at odds with the core political values of today’s progressivism. The lecture will argue that the differences between the Sixties movements and modern progressives can be summed up in four ways: equality of treatment vs equality of power; universalism vs anti-universalism; risk-taking vs regulating the private sphere; and pluralistic free speech vs anti-pluralistic free speech.
- The Personalised Century
If the twentieth was the Mass Century, the twenty-first is the Personalised Century: mass production, mass media, and mass politics are giving way to customised manufacture, social media and identity politics. Technology makes this possible, by profiling each of us through the data we sweat at every turn. So does unprecedented choice, both material and social. But identity drives this turn to a personalised world, a world from which the person is, ironically, disappearing.
Ben Cobley’s book The Tribe explains how the progressive liberal-left and its associated ‘system of diversity’ have come to dominate our society. In this lecture, he will talk about the intellectual inspirations behind the book, exploring how Heidegger, Karl Popper and Chantal Mouffe helped him to illuminate the fraught world of identity politics today.
Plenary 6: The cultural turn
Frank Furedi – sociologist, commentator and author of numerous books, including Populism and the European Culture Wars
The focus of this discussion is the cultural turn that emerged in the 1970s and its subsequent development in the decades to follow. It will explore the relationship between the counterculture of the 1960s, the elite’s adoption of post-material values in the late 1970s and the conflict over which values will prevail in the decades to follow. It will look at the way in which the depoliticisation of public life created the condition for the emergence of a marriage of convenience between cultural and technocratic politics. Finally, it will raise questions about the likely evolution of the politicisation of culture.
- Francis Fukuyama, Identity: contemporary identity politics and the struggle for recognition
- Paul Berman, Power and the Idealists: or, the passion of Joschka Fischer and its aftermath
- Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism
- Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind
- Frank Furedi, First World War: still no end in sight
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human
- Raymond Williams, Culture and Society: 1780-1950
- Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry
- Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy
- Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and The Origin of the Work of Art
- James Tooley, The Beautiful Tree: a personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves
- John Dewey, Democracy and Education
- Ashley Frawley, Semiotics of Happiness
- Nikos Sotirakopoulos, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: from New Left to Occupy
- Ben Cobley: The Tribe: the liberal-left and the system of diversity
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