The Humanities in Australia: policy, politics and public value

The Humanities in Australia: policy, politics and public value

Debates about the humanities disciplines in Australia today often oscillate between defences of their economic value, and retreats into anti-market claims about knowledge ‘for its own sake’. That these two arguments form the poles of much contemporary discourse about the Australian humanities reflects a problem of the humanities’ social warrant in the context of public higher education. Policy settings and political environments emphasising narrowly economic conceptions of public value—or ‘national interest’—are increasingly at odds with the open-ended forms of knowledge characteristic of the humanities.

This Work in Progress seminar will historicise the challenges of the contemporary humanities by tracing four intertwined histories since roughly the 1970s: the long-term expansion of Australian higher education, which has changed the social meanings of education and increasingly made universities objects of public policy and a concern of interest groups; shifts in the theoretical, demographic and political character of the humanities disciplines; the development of anti-humanities media culture wars; and changes in research policy theory prioritising applied and commercialisable research. These transformations have forced humanities scholars to find new ways to justify the public value of their teaching and especially of their research; they leave open questaions of what constitutes value and evidence of value.

Presenter Dr Joel Barnes is Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland. At ANU, he will be working on a history of the humanities disciplines and questions of public value in twentieth-century Australia.

Date & time

Tue 28 Mar 2023, 4.30–6pm


CAIS Al-falasi Theatre 127 Ellery Cres, ACTON



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