The western roots of techno-science are the Greek concept of ‘techne’, and its Latin equivalent ‘ars’. These roots tell of a narrowing of definition in modern times, and of a particular kind. It is a narrowing which dehumanizes techno-science, reducing it to programs of merely instrumental rationality. More broadly, by contrast, ‘techne’ and ‘ars’ meant art, craft and science, a kind of practical wisdom involving both doing (application of technique, using tools) and reasoning (understanding the principles underlying the material and natural world). These ‘arts’ are the stuff of human artifice, and the result is always an aesthetic (those other ‘arts’) and human value-drenched, as well as instrumental. Such is an artfulness that can only be human, in the fullness of our species being. Now is the time to broaden the agenda of techno-science once again. How better than to redefine science and technology as ‘arts’?
Indeed, our times may well demand such a redefinition. The new technologies and sciences of informatics, for instance, are infused to a remarkable degree with the human of the humanities: the human-centered designs which aim at ‘usability’; the visual aesthetics of screen designs; the language games of search and tag; the naming protocols and ontologies of the semantic web; the information architectures of new media representations; the accessibility and manipulability of information mashups that make our human intelligence irreducibly collective; and the literariness of the code that drives all these things. So too, new biomedical technologies and sciences uniquely inveigle the human—when considering, for instance, the ethics of bioscience and biotechnology, or the sustainability of the human presence in natural environments.
Returning to roots again, the Greek ‘oikonomi’ or the Latin ‘oeconomia’ integrate the human in ways now all-too-easily lost to the more narrowly understood contemporary understandings of econo-production. In the modern world, ‘economy’ and ‘production’ have come to refer to action and reflection pertaining to the domains of paid work, the production of goods and services, and their distribution and market exchange. At their etymological source, however, we find a broader realm of action—the realm of material sustenance, of domesticity (the Greek ‘oikos’/household and ‘nemein’/manage), of work as the collaborative project of meeting human needs, and of thrift (economizing), not just as a way of watching bottom lines, but of conserving human effort and natural resources.
Today more than ever, questions of the human arise in the domain of the econo-production, and these profoundly imbricate human interests, needs and purposes. Drawing on the insights of the humanities and a renewed sense of the human, we might for instance be able to address today’s burning questions of economic globalization and the possible meanings and consequences of the ‘knowledge economy.’
And what of the humanities in themselves and for themselves? To the world outside of education and academe, the humanities are considered by their critics to be at best esoteric, at worst ephemeral. They seem to have less practical ‘value’ than the domains of techno-science and econo-production.
But what could be more practical, more directly relevant to our very existence than disciplines which interrogate culture, place, time, subjectivity, consciousness, meaning, representation and change? These disciplines name themselves anthropology, archaeology, art, communication, arts, cultural studies, geography, government, history, languages, linguistics, literature, media studies, philosophy, politics, religion and sociology. This is an ambitious program even before mention of the social sciences and the professions of community service which can with equal justification be regarded as closely related to the humanities, or even subjects of the humanities, more broadly understood.
Within this highly generalized scope, the Humanities Conference, Journal Collection, Book Imprint and News Weblog have two particular interests:
Interdisciplinarity: The humanities is a domain of learning, reflection and action which require dialogue between and across discipline-defining epistemologies, perspectives and content areas.
Globalism and Diversity: The humanities are to be considered a space where recognizes the dynamics of differences in human history, thought and experience, and negotiates the contemporary paradoxes of globalization. This serves as a corrective to earlier modes of humanities thinking, where one-sided attempts were made to refine a singular essence for an agenda of humanism.
The humanities come into their own in unsettling spaces like these. These kinds of places require difficult dialogues, and here the humanities shine. It is in discussions like these that we might be able to unburden ourselves of restrictively narrow knowledge systems of techno-science and econo-production.
The conversations at the conference and the publications in the journals, book series and online community range from the broad and speculative to the microcosmic and empirical. Whatever their scope or perspective, the over-riding concern is to redefine the human and mount a case for the humanities. At a time when the dominant rationalisms are running a course that seems at times draw humanity towards ends that are less than satisfactory, the disciplines of the humanities reopen fundamental questions of the human—for pragmatic as well as redemptory reasons.