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Fantasies and humanities

Image: Quinn Dombrowski [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr 

Humanities academics are struggling to make their subjects attractive to policymakers. What is the answer?

Picture an academic, clinging, wine glass in hand, to the knees of government, hissing how much he loathes its philistine, penny-pinching myopia. With the next gulp, he slurs: “But what do you really think of me?”—preface to a sloppy attempt at seduction. A nattily-suited but dull-eyed policy wonk replies with all the dispassionate malice of a latter-day Don Draper: “I don’t think of you at all.”

For humanities academics, interaction with policymakers appears confined to a set of events stinking gently of desperation and festooned with slogans about “fulfilling our potential” and “punching our weight”. It’s “gain heft and make him love you”, as designed by arts and humanities administrators. The claim is that we need to persuade those in power just how attractive our disciplines really are; the effect is an echo chamber in which we frantically remind ourselves of our own dynamism, and remain in the political shadows.

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