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Durham University

The Centre for Humanities Innovation

'Automation and the Future of the University', Palace Green Learning Centre, July 11-12 2016

Our current vision of the Enlightenment, or ‘Humboldtian’, university is built on the separation of knowledge into disciplines and the training of students in the professional expertise required to master them (Wellmon 2015). Yet this vision of the university will surely founder in a climate of unemployment predicted to rise to 30-70% as a result of economic automation, and where what jobs there are risk being deskilled and precarious, at constant risk from the rise of the robots (Osborne & Frey 2013). This scenario raises difficult questions about the value of existing ‘professional’ qualifications in a ‘post-professional’ society (Susskind & Susskind 2015). An alternative to the exhaustive adaptation to circumstance of the consumer model of higher education could be to reinvent the university around the new economic model of the ‘pollen society’ (Boutang 2010), the ‘Collaborative Commons’ (Rifkin 2014), or ‘economy of contribution’ (Stiegler 2009). The university might thus become a hub for citizen-science and massively participatory research in what some have described as a coming ‘world without work’, liberated for creativity and emancipated by automation from the relentless commodification of culture (Srnicek and Williams 2015). What would this mean, though, for what we do and how we do it? What transformations in the disciplinary landscape would it entail? How do questions of economic automation intersect with those of the automation of decision and thought through technologies that increasingly prescribe our experience? These questions presuppose and build on others that have long been posed in the critical humanities and social sciences, regarding, for instance, the nature or work and the relation of the arts, humanities, and even the sciences, to technological change, quantification and Big Data.

Keynote: Chad Wellmon (University of Virginia)

Plus other confirmed speakers: Anne Alombert (Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation)—David Berry (Sussex Humanities Lab, Unversity of Sussex)— Patrick Crogan (UWE Digital Cultures Research Centre)—Martin Crowley (Cambridge University)—Beatrice Fazi (Sussex Humanities Lab, Unversity of Sussex)— Karen Gregory (Edinburgh University)—Michael Mack (Durham University)Gerald Moore (Durham University)

Attendance at the workshop is free but registration will be required. For enquiries and registration, please email

Conference Programme

Monday July 11th

09.00—Coffee, fruit, pastries and registration


‘The University and the Two Cultures: Snow’s Two Cultures meets Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition(Michael Mack, Durham)

‘Play Fight’ (Martin Crowley, Cambridge)



'Animation, Automation and Future Projections' (Patrick Crogan, UWE)

‘The Automation of Thought’ (Beatrice Fazi, Sussex)

13.00-14.00—Buffet Lunch


Title: tbc(Karen Gregory, Edinburgh)

Title: tbc(David Berry, Sussex)



Plenary Session

‘Knowledge Machines: Universities, Search Engines, and Other Thinking Aids’ (Chad Wellmon, Virginia)

Followed by drinks reception (Palace Green Learning Centre) and conference meal (19.00) at The Cellar Door, 41 Saddler Street

Tuesday July 12th

09.00—Coffee, fruit, pastries


‘The Dead Zone of the University’ (Gerald Moore, Durham)

‘The Plaine Commune “learning territory”:

On contributive economics and research’

(Anne Alombert, Plaine Commune)

Title: tbc(Franck Cormerais, Bordeaux-Michel Montaigne)



‘Adopting the Plaine Commune model?’

Roundtable discussion with all conference participants.

13.00-14.00—Buffet Lunch