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The New School of the Anthropocene Symposium is an ongoing series of unscripted video dialogues launched to coincide with the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) held in Glasgow in Autumn 2021.

The framework for discussion is bio-political emergency: a question of unimaginable climate catastrophe, species extinction and the undermining of the very notion of civil society and its reciprocal practices.


This is our pivotal question: 

How can the university be reshaped to address these issues in the context of its own accelerating crises of marketisation, instrumentalism and the systematic denigration of arts and humanities subjects? 

The Symposium pairs leading cultural figures from neighbouring fields with the intention of allowing free-ranging conversation, which is loosely tied into the New School’s wider educational enquiry. The following prompts are given to the speakers: 

How might higher education mitigate its relentless focus on the survivalist demands of the present? Whereas on a personal level this means preparing students to compete in a hostile marketplace for a job, on a social level it implies the reinforcement and reproduction of the given configurations of power. How can we instead prepare students to invent an alternative future rooted in social justice and ecological sanity?


In the context of the global rise of right-wing authoritarian regimes, how might the university assist the restoration of democratic vitality and cultural confidence more generally?


In light of the announcement in September 2021 by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Highlands and Islands of his intention to cull ‘vanity courses’ in favour of ‘workforce alignment and supply,’ how can we restore the adventurous life of the mind as a legitimate value in and of itself? How should we stop the university’s drift into a trade school and restore it as a place where meaning is explored and actively made? 


Is the packaged concept of the ‘Uni’ experience necessary and desirable?

Fintan O’Toole identified a ‘broader international effort to make education more and more managerial, to insist on a rational relationship between inputs and outcomes, to reproduce only those forms of knowledge that we already have. It is now anathema to tolerate a system that allows people to do things we have not planned and cannot measure.’ How can the higher educational institution be reorganized upon lines that no longer simulate corporate business and instead enshrine values beyond mere utility?



How can the work of the body – of craft, skill and feeling – become realized as areas of value in the university? Should the creative act complement critical enquiry within the curriculum and, if so, how?


How can higher education assign value to the collaborative work of the community, as well as individual growth and enrichment? How should the curriculum be redesigned to suggest an ethos beyond the enhancement of personal market worth?


‘What we’re involved with here is a complex redefinition of cultural and intellectual values: a new reading of the poetic past and present which Robert Duncan speaks of as “a symposium of the whole.” In such a new “totality,” he writes [in “Rites of Participation,” 1968], “all the excluded orders must be included. The female, the proletariat, the foreign; the animal and vegetative; the unconscious and the unknown; the criminal and failure—all that has been outcast and vagabond must return to be admitted in the creation of what we consider we are.” If that or some variant thereof is taken as the larger picture, it can provide the context in which to see most clearly the searches and discoveries in what we call “the arts.”’


Jerome and Diane Rothenberg, Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics (1983)

The ensuing dialogues actively inform the New School’s ethos and serve as an insight into the full range of our concerns. 

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