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ERCC Conference Inventing the Human
Conference 2023: 'Inventing the Human' - University of Melbourne & Online
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Human / Inhuman

(Provisionally) 27-29 November 2025
University of Melbourne, Parkville

Democracy, liberty, revolution, citizenship, emancipation, critique are all terms given their modern meanings during the 18th and early 19th centuries, which for the next two hundred years were commonly used to frame progressive thought and, more broadly, to provide tools to champion the human against the inhuman. Yet the same period is also the Age of Slavery, the Age of Empire, and the time when ‘total’ war, waged against civilian populations, was invented. Although the first set of terms presents itself as antidote to the second, in the late 20th century it became common to see them as entangled with each other, with powerful critiques of the subject of Enlightenment politics developed by feminism, postcolonialism, and ecological, queer, and disability studies. Now in the 21st century, the ground is shifting again: climate change, the digital revolution, algorithm-driven artificial intelligence, and pervasive actuvirtuality have changed understandings of the limits of reason, the reach of human agency, what counts as knowledge, even the nature of experience, which was once thought to be a touchstone for political action in general. What then becomes of politics, liberty, citizenship and the shared space necessary for democracy, particularly if that space now must include the nonhuman? As Frédérique Aït-Touati asks, how do we reimagine ‘the Earth as a shared stage and, more radically, as a space that is constantly manufactured by living beings, and not as a backdrop; that is, an inert, available, shareable, and appropriable space.’ And on this stage, how and where is the line to be drawn between what was once described as the human and the inhuman?

Image credit: Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), ''Sueño de la mentira y la inconstancia'' (‘Dreams of lies and inconstancy’), Wikimedia Commons.
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