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UCL Festival of Culture: Me and My Selfie

James LRussell1 June 2016

2015_White_House_Astronomy_Night_by_Harrison_Jones_03_(cropped_to_Ahmed_Mohamed)As part of the UCL Festival of Culture, Professor Lucy O’Brien (UCL Philosophy) delivered a talk entitled ‘Feeling self-conscious: Me and My Selfie’ on Friday 27th May.

The title of the lecture might have implied we were going to take a look at the popular current discourse that our current obsession with taking  ‘selfies’ – using smartphones to take images of ourselves to share online – is a sign that social media is damaging our psyches and turning us all into self-obsessed narcissists.

However, in her talk Professor O’Brien gave an overview of the philosophy of self-consciousness and self-image and tied this in with the implications of our use of smart phones, without making a judgement about whether or not our increasing desire to take and post images of ourselves is necessarily a negative thing.

The lecture gave us definitions of different forms of ‘self-consciousness’, such as ‘ordinary self-consciousness’ – which is being aware of oneself, perhaps if we are giving a talk or speech and people are therefore looking at us, but not necessarily in an uncomfortable or painful way.

“Human beings have different ways of being self-conscious” explained Professor O’Brien. “We can be self-conscious from the inside in an introspective way, or from the outside, aware of ourselves in an ‘objectual’ sense in relation to material things, or experience ‘interpersonal self-consciousness’ in relation to other people”.

People are of course self-conscious to different degrees – some may be more aware of themselves and how they feel others are perceiving them than others. What’s significant about the age we now live in is that “the props that enable us to become self-conscious from the outside have multiplied”.

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Race: confronting myths and deconstructing colonial concepts

GuestBlogger16 June 2014

By Foluso Williams

The August 2011 London riots “were not about race: the perpetrators and the victims were white, black and Asian”. It would seem from Mr Cameron’s comment that Britain is made up of three distinct ‘races’: ‘white’, ‘black’ and ‘Asian’.

However, many would argue that two of the ‘races’ that he has identified represent colours and the other denotes the population of a particular continent. Is Mr Cameron right? Surely, he has painted the best picture of 21st century Britain?

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Not according to some academics, who believe that he is just as perplexed with the notion of ‘race’ as the rest of Britain.

This year at UCL, a remarkable array of scholars from various academic disciplines across the globe convened to discuss and challenge many of the misconceptions and complexities associated with the notion of ‘race’.

All speakers, which included staff and students, deconstructed the outdated myths that have lingered throughout different historical contexts and illustrated just how these constructions have become widely accepted in our society.

Two events, the Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies (Figs) Friday Forum on ‘Race’ and Critical Philosophy of Race: Here and Now, revealed through revolutionary research how we can begin to understand and challenge the notion of ‘race’, which is essentially a “colonial construct” that has been imposed on us by misinformed thinkers.

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Philosophy and theatre

Jack H CDean4 June 2014

Friedrich Nietzche

Friedrich Nietzsche

Forty minutes into Tom Stern’s (UCL Philosophy) UCL Festival of the Arts lecture he had the audience humming a drone-like melody and clapping their hands in time. A 12-strong tragic chorus concealed their faces with masks and turned to the stage as two volunteers recited the opening lines of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex.

CREON: Before you came, my lord, to steer our ship of state, Laius ruled this land.

OEDIPUS: I have heard that, but I never saw the man.

CREON: Laius was killed. And now the god is clear: those murderers, he tells us, must be punished, whoever they may be.

OEDIPUS: And where are they? In what country? Where am I to find a trace of this ancient crime? It will be hard to track.

The audience continued to hum and clap but the hedonism was soon interrupted due to a complaint from a conference in the room below. A pity as it interrupted the near completion of the Apollonian unity Nietzsche had envisioned these events to be about. We had, at least, tasted what it would have been like to be at a religious worship of Dionysus that took place in amphitheatres over festival periods in Ancient Greece.

Stern is fresh from the publication of his book entitled Philosophy and Theatre which investigates how the two relate. He began by providing background into the history of both. This inevitably led to Ancient Greece, the birthplace of western philosophy and western theatre. ‘The tradition begins here. Both are Greek words. Philosophy means the love of wisdom  and theatron means a place for viewing’.

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The gadfly of Athens

BenStevens20 February 2014

“You are the incarnation of the good life”. As opening gambits go, it’s a sure-fire way to win over an audience and a compelling way to begin a lecture about Socrates.

Bettany Hughes

Bettany Hughes

But then, through her extensive TV work, author and historian Bettany Hughes knows all about how to captivate modern audiences with tales from antiquity and her public talk, ‘Athens: the theatre for Socrates’ ideas’, on 13 February was no exception.

The lecture was part of Ancient Plays for Modern Mind – a public engagement programme organised by UCL Greek & Latin, which was certainly doing its job, judging by the large number of eager sixth-form students sat around me.

Hughes began the lecture proper by explaining the meaning behind her “incarnation” comment; that by attending her talk and engaging in face-to-face debate, we were participating in one of the joys of life – at least as far as Socrates was concerned.

Having recently been asked by a journalist why the philosopher is relevant today, she told us that, although she could have supplied them with a book-length answer, her eventual reply was much shorter.

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