Tetley Talks: What Does it Mean to be Human?

Leeds Salon hosts a series of talks in partnership with The Tetley asking ‘What does it mean to be human?’

We have invited writers and academics to examine questions around philosophy, biology, culture and human agency. The series takes place in the Ground Floor Gallery of The Tetley on consecutive Saturday afternoons in September, from 3:45pm (for 4pm start) to 5:30pm.

Admission: £3 to pay on the day, but please reserve your place by e-mailing us at contact@leedssalon.org.uk.


Have We Still Got Soul?

Saturday 6 September

Speaker: Angus Kennedy

‘There's no such thing as a soul. It's just something they made up to scare kids, like the boogeyman or Michael Jackson.’ Bart, The Simpsons

The concept of the soul is a problematic one today: pushed into obscurity by philosophic rejection of dualism and scientific understanding of our materiality. It is certainly difficult to accept any idea of an inner ‘something’ that constitutes our self-consciousness and sense of identity yet shows up on no X-ray. But it seems equally difficult to concede that our unique first-person perspective can be so easily reduced to bodily identity. What explains our desire to see the person in the self-portrait or picture, the subject as being somehow present in the object? Is the language of friendship and love just a fond metaphor for genetic selfishness? If we are only blood and brain, then what do we mean when we speak of heart and soul?

Angus Kennedy is head of external relations at the Institute of Ideas and founder of its educational initiative The Academy. He also chairs the IoI's Economy Forum and is a member of the European Cultural Parliament. He is the author of Being Cultured: In Defence of Discrimination (2014).

Are We Just Another Ape?

Saturday 13 September

Speaker: Helene Guldberg

Is humanity exceptional or just another ape? Today, the belief that human beings are special is distinctly out of fashion. Almost every day we are presented with new revelations about how much we are driven by neurological and biological impulses over which we have little or no control, and at the same time about how animals are so much more like us than we ever imagined. The argument is at its most powerful when it comes to our closest living relatives - the great apes. However, despite what first impressions might tell us, are apes really 'just like us'? Or are the boundaries between us and other species greater than many would like to claim?

Helene Guldberg is co-founder and director of online publication spiked, associate lecturer in Childhood Development at the Open University and the US study abroad centre, CAPA. Helen is the author of Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear (2009) and of Just Another Ape? (2010). Visit her blog.

Should We Be Happy?

Saturday 20 September

Speaker: Ashley Frawley

Human happiness has been a concern since Ancient Greece. And the ‘pursuit of happiness’ has been seen as a fundamental human right since the French and American Revolutions. However, it is only in recent years that happiness has become an object of government policy: in the UK with the establishment of the National Well-being Project in 2010, and the first ‘Happiness Survey’ in 2012. But why has happiness become an issue? Does it reflect a real and growing problem of unhappiness in contemporary society; maybe driven by our consumerist culture and the pace of 21st Century life? Or does it reflect our more emotional times, both underpinned by, and encouraging, a ‘vulnerable’ model of human functioning?

Ashley Frawley is a lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy, Swansea University. Her research deals with the sociology of health and illness, and the rising importance attributed to emotions and behaviour in contemporary politics. She is the author of Semiotics of Happiness: Rhetorical Beginnings of a Public Problem (2015). 

What Happened To Agency?

Saturday 27 September

Speaker: James Heartfield 

Nowadays everyone is obsessed with themselves. People take life-affirming journeys and courses in self-discovery, cover themselves in tattoos, and talk about little else - the fear is that we are a selfish society, only interested in number one. But the preoccupation with the Self is a clue that the modern sense of identity is weak, not strong. We are a long way from the assertive self-confident individual of the eighteenth century, or the collective struggles of the nineteenth century. The contemporary idea of Self is fundamentally precarious, unsure of its goals, and without a sense of its mission in the world. Margaret Thatcher hoped that she could pull back the collectivist welfare-state and uncover a healthy individualism - but all that has been uncovered is a cautious and inward-looking individual. Looking at the situation of the individual and the collective today, what are the prospects for human agency?

James Heartfield is a writer and lecturer, who writes across a wide range of subjects including history, environmentalism and development. He's the author of many books, including The European Union and the End of Politics (2013) and The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained (2006). Visit his blog.

Event Partners:



The Tetley
is a new centre for contemporary art and learning, located in the former headquarters of the world-famous Tetley Brewery on Hunslet Road. Visit their website at: www.thetetley.org/


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