Humanising the Future

The 50th Academy Symposium will be held 14-15 November 2019 in Brisbane. Annual Fellows’ events will occur 15-16 November 2019 in Brisbane.

The theme for the Symposium is ‘Humanising the Future’.

Powerful versions of millennial futures have excited, reassured and terrified populations for centuries. Today’s grand narrative of the age of robots, artificial intelligence and the fourth industrial revolution is framed both in terms of existential threat and revolutionary transformation.

The Academy’s 50th annual Symposium will explore the human dynamics by which the future has been imagined and brought into being; ask whether we can humanise the digital future; build cities’ civic culture into the future; and consider prospects for the human, and the post-human, in our current epoch, the Anthropocene.

The 50th Symposium is being convened by Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham AM FAcSS FAHA (Queensland University of Technology), Professor Jean Burgess (Queensland University of Technology’s Digital Media Research Centre), Professor Mark Finnane FASSA FAHA (Griffith University) and Associate Professor Elizabeth Stephens (University of Queensland).


Speakers will be added to the program once confirmed.

Session 1 


Future technological, social, cultural, and economic challenges facing humanity and the world call for concerted efforts to bring hyper-specialised knowledge formations back into a greater degree of what Edward O. Wilson (1998) explores as ‘consilience’.

Key note presentation by Professor Genevieve Bell (Autonomy, Agency & Assurance Innovation Institute and Florence Violet McKenzie Chair, Engineering & Computer Science, Australian National University)

Session 2


Histories fundamental to European understandings of the world, including the West’s roots in the classical age, and the impact of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution on religion are now much contested. At the same time European responsibilities for indigenous and global harms have been brought to historical account. Narrative modes, the linear sense of time and the scale of an intelligible past are being recast. This session will focus on some of the ways in which these developments are expressed in contemporary research and ask what kinds of past may inform our future.

Session 3


Rapid urbanisation is one of the great megatrends driving humanity into the future. Discussion and debate on urban futures is often dominated by the notion of ‘smart cities’ which focuses on technological approaches to urban development, and stresses connectivity and efficiency. But cities’ liveability must be secured as much through the robust articulation of civic cultural futures. This session engages south-east Queensland stakeholders, especially galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) institutions, to consider the role of community and cultural sectors in responding to the challenge of smart and cultural futures.

Session 4


New technologies have always been accompanied by both enthusiastic solutionism and dystopian anxieties, including around the shape of future work. So-called ‘Industry 4.0’ (automation, machine learning, big data, the Internet of things, cloud and cognitive computing) would seem to have marginalised the knowledge and skills that humanities, arts and social sciences cultivate. However, high impact research has challenged automation as a primary driver of workforce change and shows that critical thinking, creativity, and collaborative/ cognitive skills that effectively knit specialist knowledges together are increasingly important in job profiles. Furthermore, the humanities have much to contribute to ensuring that the potential of new technologies to enhance human flourishing is as important as uncovering and exposing their potential to deepen surveillance, discrimination and control over humanity and society.

Session 5


There has been much work in the humanities on cyborg and other ‘post-human’ identities, on ‘deep green’ and other approaches to the nature of human relationships with other sentient beings and the environment, and on the implications for the future of an era now putatively called the Anthropocene.

Session 6


This is a free public event on the past, present and future for the humanities in Australia – aligning with the overall theme for the Academy’s 50th anniversary. The session will be the national launch of a special anniversary publication with a panel discussion on future directions for the humanities by leading scholars and institutions.