The Work of the Humanities: Critical Thinking in Life and Labor series is one of the collections within the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere Collection. In 2014-2015, the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere presented The Work of the Humanities: Critical Thinking in Life and Labor, a six-part public speaker series at the University of Florida.

This nine-month speaker series draws upon the expertise of six humanities and social science scholars from across the United States to understand better the rapidly shifting workplace environment. Growing applications of digital technologies, telecommunication platforms, and robotics are creating new forms of worker interaction. The rise of a global marketplace also demands new skill sets of employees and administrators, who seek information from multiple generations, races, and perspectives. And innovation culture comes with an atmosphere of collaboration, excitement, and uncertainty that tomorrow’s leaders must manage creatively and thoughtfully. What do all of these changing conditions have in common? They engage core topics and competencies in the humanities: how to listen, how to analyze, how to argue, and how to navigate our social world. Speaker topics include examinations of the changing relationships between humans and technologies, discussions of how history and narrative inform economic and political transformations, and the close links between culture and science in shaping future work practices. The ultimate goal of the series is to demonstrate how active engagement in the disciplines of the humanities not only allows us to understand and adapt to these changes, it offers a way to initiate them and improve the quality of our daily labors. Finally, in addition to the labor that we do for financial compensation, the humanities enhance our understanding and appreciation for what it means to be human in a world that is becoming more and more digitized every day. And we should work at that task hardest.

This series of six lectures is made possible by the Rothman Endowment and Yavitz Fund at the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with co-sponsorship from the UF Informatics Institute, Smathers Libraries, Honors Program, College of Public Health and Health Professions, Department of Political Science, Department of English and Phillip Wegner (Marston-Milbauer Eminent Scholar Chair), Department of Philosophy, Department of Classics, Elizabeth B. and William F. Poe Center for Business Ethics Education and Research, Pamela Gilbert (Albert Brick Professor), Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, and UF Research Computing.

Further information follows:

Selected videos of presentations from this series.>

The Outsourcing Illusion: Why Tempting Technology Can Lead to Dangerous Delegation
Evan Selinger (Rochester Institute of Technology)
13 October, 5:30 pm, Smathers Library (East) 100, University of Florida
(Online Video)

In The Outsourced Self, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild argues that Americans are increasingly delegating intimate emotional labor to service providers: child, elder, and pet caretakers, love coaches, wedding planners, rented friends, and even so-called wantologists. While these marketplace transactions hold out the promise of improving our lives, Hochschild takes a deeper look at outsourcing and shows that it can yield problematic, even tragic results: depersonalized bonds, distorted family values, an overly-instrumentalized orientation to relationships, diminished virtue, and atrophied civic life. Hochschild doesn’t say much about consumer technology, but the issues she’s concerned with directly apply to our relation to it. Silicon Valley expects us to embrace outsourcing creep by relying on cyber-servants: ever-expanding smart, predictive, behavior-modifying, and labor saving tools. This techno-social trajectory points to a form of life where the transformative impacts of outsourcing become more pervasive and intense. To make wise decisions when confronted with outsourcing technologies that can fundamentally impact our sensibilities, we need a clear sense of what technological outsourcing is, why it often promises more than it can deliver, and how to judge when to avoid it. The task before us, therefore, is to grasp the phenomenological contours of what I call the outsourcing illusion.

Evan Selinger is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he is also Affiliated Faculty with the Golisano Institute for Sustainability and the Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction, and Creativity (MAGIC). He’s also a Fellow at The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology. Evan’s research addresses ethical issues concerning technology, science, the law, expertise, and sustainability. A prolific academic author, Evan also cares deeply about public engagement, writing for popular magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including: WiredSlateThe AtlanticThe Wall Street JournalThe NationThree Quarks DailyHuffington Post, and The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology. His single- and co-authored books include: Expertise: Philosophical Reflections (Automatic/VIP Press, 2011), Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality (co-edited with Don Ihde, Indiana University Press, 2003),Five Questions in Philosophy of Technology (co-edited with Jan Olsen, Automatic/VIP Press, 2007), Rethinking Theories and Practices of Imaging (co-edited with Timothy Engström, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), and Five Questions in Sustainability Ethics (co-edited with Wade Robison and Ryne Raffelle, Automatic/VIP Press, 2010).

Narratives of Capitalism: Reading and Writing the Future of the Global Economy
Christopher Michaelson (University of St. Thomas)
20 November, 5:30 pm, Hough Hall 150, University of Florida

(Online Video)

Human beings make narrative sense of life, including economic life, to understand: who works and why, what and when to produce, and how much and where to consume. The novel has become a classic, near-universal form of critical, narrative expression. Through reading and analyzing novels, we can explore how individuals and societies represent the relationship between ethical and economic values, meaning and money, and the good life and prosperity. The novel is a valuable analytical instrument at the same time that it may have intrinsic value as a work of art. However, it is also an economic product, influencing and influenced by commercial markets. The demands of work, competing forms of entertainment and enlightenment, and technological change challenge narrative forms to adapt to evolving lifestyles, preferences, and communication methods. What will be the major narratives in the future of the global economy? And what forms might those narratives take?

After earning a Ph.D. in philosophical aesthetics and ethics, Christopher Michaelson defied philosophical and practical logic to launch a business advisory career in New York. A few years later, he began his academic career while leaving a foot in practice. For most of the past 12 years, he has combined full-time academic positions with part-time business practice and community service. Currently, he is an associate professor of Ethics & Business Law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis-St. Paul, on the Business & Society faculty at New York University, and a Global Advisory Director with PwC. Christopher’s business clients have included major multinational corporations, along with government and non-governmental organizations and multilateral financial institutions. He has addressed business and academic audiences on several continents and currently co-edits PwC's strategy and risk journal, Resilience: Winning with Risk, and serves as the Secretary-General of the International Society for Business, Ethics and Economics. Christopher’s primary research specialties include meaningful work, global ethics and emerging risks. His writing–appearing in various academic, trade and blog publications–seeks to shed light on these issues using such media as art, architecture, literature and film. He brings his experience and research to teaching ethics, leadership, governance and sustainability.

Uncertain Actions, Inexperienceable Evidence: Towards New Practices of the Future
Wendy Chun (Brown University)
4 December, 5:30 pm, Smathers Library (East) 100, University of Florida

According to philosopher Immanuel Kant, the motto of the Enlightenment is: Sapere aude—have the courage to use your own understanding. The assumption of this motto is that enlightenment is inevitable, once the public is free. This belief that the search for truth will set you free—that true knowledge leads to virtuous, collective actions—has been called into question over and over again, most recently by phenomena such as global climate change (not simply in terms of the continuing debate over its existence, but also by the temporality of climate predictions: by the time these models can be verified, it will be too late to act). Furthermore, our classic theories of causality are being challenged by a growing interest in Big Data, which emphasizes correlation rather than causality in order to make predictions about the future. Rather than bemoan this situation, this talk uses the example of global climate change models to argue for an alliance between scientists and humanities scholars in order to answer the hard questions about the relationship between theory and practice—between truth, reality, and action—that face us all.

Wendy Chun is Professor and Chair of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. She has studied both Systems Design Engineering and English Literature, which she combines and mutates in her current work on digital media. She is author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (MIT, 2006), and Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (MIT 2011); she is co-editor (with Tara McPherson and Patrick Jagoda) of a special issue ofAmerican Literature entitled New Media and American Literature, co-editor (with Lynne Joyrich) of a special issue ofCamera Obscura entitled “Race and/as Technology”, and co-editor (with Thomas Keenan) of New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader (Routledge, 2005). She is currently a Visiting Professor at Leuphana University (Luneburg, Germany). She has been a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and a Wriston Fellow at Brown, as well as a visiting associate professor in the History of Science Department at Harvard, of which she is currently an Associate. She is working on a monograph entitled Imagined Networks.

More Human than Human: The Work of Life in the Age of Biotechnical Reproduction
Priscilla Wald (Duke University)
29 January, 5:30 pm, Smathers Library (East) 100, University of Florida 

(Online Video)

A woman pregnant with her grandchild; a hamster in a state of suspended animation; human cells reproducing into eternity. These are some of the biotechnological innovations that seemed to blur the line between science and science fiction in the decades following the Second World War. Public accounts of these innovations emerged against the backdrop of debates in social and political thought surrounding the atrocities of two global conflagrations and, more broadly, colonialism. Legal cases and policy debates, the mainstream media and popular fiction and film all attest to the convergence of scientific innovation and geopolitical transformation in new accounts of the human—and of life itself—in the decades following the war. Questions abounded: if we can create life in a laboratory and patent it in the courts, what will happen to the basic dignity of humankind? What will happen to human relationships to other humans and to the world at large? Such questions circulated through the courts and the media, but it was in the science fictional scenarios that writers could work through the dangers and possibilities, the hopes and fears, associated with the science and register as well the emergence of new histories--scientific creation stories--for humanity in the age of biotechnology. This talk draws on the legal cases and policy debates, news accounts and especially science fiction—with a focus on Ridley Scott’s cinematic adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: the 1982 cult classic Bladerunner--to chronicle the scientific creation stories that emerged to explain the radically changing figure of the human, to forecast its destiny, and to create by imagining a biotechnological world.

Priscilla Wald teaches and works on U.S. literature and culture as Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Duke University. Her current work focuses on the intersections among the law, literature, science, and medicine. Her recent book, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative, studies the evolution of the contemporary stories we tell about the global health problem of "emerging infections." She is currently at work on a book-length study entitledHuman Being After Genocide, which chronicles the challenge to conceptions of human being that emerged from scientific and technological innovation in the wake of the Second World War. She is especially interested in analyzing how the language, narratives and images in mainstream media promote a particular understanding of genomic science that is steeped in (often misleading) cultural biases and assumptions. She is committed to promoting conversations among scholars from science, medicine, law and cultural studies in order to facilitate a richer understanding of these issues. Wald is the author of Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form (Duke, 1995). Dr. Wald has served on the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and is currently the MLA representative to the American Council of Learned Societies; she recently completed a term as President of the American Studies Association. She has a secondary appointment in Women's Studies, is on the steering committee of ISIS (Information Sciences + Information Studies) and is a member of the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and an affiliate of the Trent Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities and the Institute for Global Health.

Start-up Democracy: Innovating Citizenship with the Ancient Athenians
Cynthia Farrar (Yale University)
16 April, 5:30 pm, Pugh Hall Ocora, University of Florida

(Online Video)

Entrepreneurship rules: as a way to make a living, and to remake the world. Human striving tends to be interpreted through the prism of disruptive innovation. We call change agents “social entrepreneurs.” And yet, we don’t innovate our democracy. We take its structure for granted: as a framework fixed by the Founders, or (increasingly) as irrelevant. In a variety of spheres, we are attenuating the significance of the political system. We seek to achieve political as well as economic aims through individual initiative, data gathering and targeting, and technological ingenuity. What will digitally-driven decentralization and fragmentation mean for democratic aspirations? Has the system we take for granted ever made good on the promise of democracy? Will the networked public do better? Perhaps the innovations of the first democracy can help us re-invent our own. The ancient Athenians were civic entrepreneurs. In an unprecedented restructuring that provoked Plato’s scorn, they accorded political equality “to equals and unequals alike.” In the U.S. today, we assume that our democracy gives us equal access to shape political power; but the Athenians knew they had to build a 'political app' to guarantee that.

Cynthia Farrar is a scholar and civic entrepreneur who applies her understanding of ancient Athenian democratic theory and practice to the challenge of engaging citizens as full partners in American democracy. From 2001 - 2007, she orchestrated non-partisan conversations among randomly-invited citizens, with local partners and MacNeil-Lehrer Productions. In 2007, Farrar founded Purple States®, a video production company that brings the experiences and perspectives of ordinary people into discussions of the politics, policies, and programs that affect them. Purple States documentary video series have aired on the New York TimesWashington PostWall Street Journal, and USA TODAY. As a Research Scholar at Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Farrar teaches and writes about the theory and practice of democracy, ancient and modern, with a special focus on deliberative democracy. She holds a B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

Unpaid and Unpriced: Toward a Feminist Political Economy
Nancy Folbre (Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst)
16 March, 5:30 pm, Ustler Hall Atrium (2nd floor), University of Florida

(Online Video)

In both theory and practice feminism has always reached beyond an emphasis on gender equality to interrogate the causes and consequences of inequality writ large. In recent years, the emergence of feminist social science has generated a distinctive approach to political economy that emphasizes the intersection of many different forms of collective identity and action, with important implications for the trajectory of our economic system. Growing attention to the economic importance of unpaid work within families and communities parallels, in many respects, attention to the other unpriced resources crucial to a sustainable environment. Feminist theory can help construct a new paradigm for progressive political change.

Nancy Folbre is Professor Emerita of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Much of her research focuses on the economic dimensions of care work and its impact on gender inequality. She recently edited For Love and Money: Care Provision in the U.S. (Russell Sage Foundation, 2012), and has authored many articles and books, including Greed, Lust, and Gender: A History of Economic Ideas (Oxford, 2009). Between 2009 and 2014 she was a weekly contributor to the New York Times Economix blog.