How should we conceptualise the human in an Anthropocene world?

In the 2023 Academy Lecture Academy President, Emeritus Professor Lesley Head FASSA FAHA explored how the human should be conceptualised in an Anthropocene world.

Lesley Head 2023 Acdemy Lecture

Event details

This lecture occurred on 15 November 2023. A recording is available here

The Anthropocene is understood to be a new geological epoch in which human activities dominate Earth’s surface processes. If the Anthropocene is defined by the activities and impacts of people, it is paradoxically also a period that may shortly be out of human control due to rapid, unpredictable and non-linear changes. Climate change threatens many aspects of social and economic life as we know it.

The humanities have spent decades dismantling essentialised conceptualisations of the human, so why are they so persistent? The free-standing Enlightenment subject, the triumphalist unity of the human spirit, the exceptionalist pinnacle of evolution: these framings have always been problematic and are part of the hubris that got us to the present moment.

Part of the urgent work required is to reimagine ourselves in relation to the world. The onus continues to be on the humanities to lead this task, and Australia is a place from which to make distinctive contributions.

In this lecture, Lesley will distil a conceptualisation of the human as contingent, relational and differentiated. She asks, who is this we, the anthropos, and who must we become?

About Lesley

Lesley HeadEmeritus Professor Lesley Head FASSA FAHA was elected to Fellowship in the Academy in 2004, taking up the role of President in November 2020.

Lesley is currently Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne. She has contributed to international debates about relationships between society and nature and her most recent research has been on the cultural dimensions of environmental issues including climate change.

She held an ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship at the University of Wollongong from 2009-14 where she was Director of the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research. She was King Carl XVI Visiting Professor in Environmental Science in Sweden from 2005-06 and was awarded the Vega Medal of the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography in 2015.

About the Academy Lecture

Each year, in this distinguished lecture series, a Fellow is invited by Council to deliver a lecture on their latest research. The series also features a lecture by each Academy President during their term in office. The Academy Lecture is a rich display of the breadth and depth of scholarship in the humanities and the impact and imaginative power of this work.

The long list of lectures that have been presented is in itself a potted history of the Fellowship, and richly displays the breadth and depth of their scholarship.

> Learn more about the Lecture’s history & explore past lectures

Join us on 16 and 17 November for our 54th Annual Academy Symposium — Between humans & machines: exploring the pasts and futures of automation — as we explore the possibilities and hazards of automation, and the complexities of human-machine relations.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian Academy of the Humanities recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and their continuous connection to country, community and culture.