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The humanities is necessary but not sufficient for social transformation

I am researching a project at the moment on the role of humanities (and social sciences) in enhancing standards of living and rendering societies open, empathetic (to the disadvantaged) and dynamic. It is in the face of trends within Universities to concentrate funding and attention on the so-called STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and contract funding for the humanities (and social science). The funding cuts undermine the viability of these areas and whole departments have been closed – having been declared by the bean counters – as being uneconomic. This is reinforced by conservative neo-liberal political diatribes which seek to construct the humanities/social sciences as bastions of “left-wing” radicalism and post-modernist degradation (for example, eschewing studies in sexuality, gender, ethnicity etc). There is strong evidence available to show that studying the humanities is a socially transformative endeavour (for example, the Clemente program). But like all “individual” initiatives, there is a danger that the reasoning used to justify them will fall foul of compositional fallacies. We have to defend the humanities to enrich individuals. But we also have to use that empowerment to challenge the elites on the macroeconomics battleground. The two motivations are self-reinforcing. The former is not a sufficient condition for social transformation.

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