Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2015 launches today with over 250 events exploring arts, society and culture.

The packed two-week programme brings together many of the world’s leading thinkers and experts to tackle a series of critical issues, from privacy and the impact of technology to immigration and censorship, inspired by the theme of power and resistance.

Headline speakers include Professors Lord Martin Rees, Dominic Lieven, David Runciman, John Macnicol and Rae Langton. They are joined by BBC’s Alan Yentob, author Peter Hitchens, photographers Toby Smith and Judith Aronson, journalists Ian Dunt and Emily Dugan, CEO of Index on Censorship Jodie Ginsberg, and musical innovators Asian Dub Foundation.   

Social media and technology come under the spotlight, with events examining how revolutionary movements interact with technologies such as Facebook and Twitter; issues of privacy in today’s technology-dependent society – particularly relevant in view of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s recent revelations that security services can gain total access to user’s devices; and the advantages and disadvantages of computers that predict our personalities and interact with us intelligently, and the many ethical questions these topics raise.

Political issues including the future of Europe and immigration are also at the heart this year’s Festival. On the theme of the future of Europe is the debate Can Europe Keep the Peace? The speakers include historian Professor Robert Tombs; Montserrat Guibernau, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London and author of the forthcoming book Solidarity and Division in the EU; and Dr Chris Bickerton, a politics lecturer at the University of Cambridge and author of the award-winning book European Integration: From Nation-States to Member States.

Further political-themed events include Can Writers and Artists Ever Be Terrorists? a debate with Professor Anthony Glees,  Director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at The University of Buckingham; Turkish artist and anti-censorship campaigner Pelin Basaran; Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship; and Dr Sara Silvestri who specialises in radicalisation. The question of whether national broadcasters can be truly independent at a time of war is considered in the debate War, Censorship and Propaganda, with Professor Christopher Andrew, Official Historian of MI5; Professor David Welch, director of the Centre for the Study of Propaganda and War at the University of Kent; Dr Peter Busch from King’s College London on the use of social media for propaganda purposes; and Caroline Wyatt, former defence correspondent at the BBC.

A key Festival highlight is the 24-hour event, Arena: night and day. For one day and one night Arena infiltrates Cambridge in a series of pop-up locations showing the likes of Bob Dylan, Francis Bacon, Sister Wendy, Harold Pinter, Bob Marley, T.S. Eliot and Luis Bunuel to name just a few. Following the filmic inundation of Cambridge, members of the team will discuss the secrets of the programme’s success and the future of public service broadcasting with Cambridge University film experts and the BBC’s Alan Yentob. The talk will consider new broadcasting formats and platforms, for instance online, and critical partnerships with universities and communities, seeking core interaction between the best research and best creatives.

Gender issues continue to be contentious and the Festival debates some of the current issues in a number of events including a panel discussion that explores the implications of trans identities for religious faith, with speaker Reverend Christina Beardsley. In addition, Dr Julia Long will take a look at the nature and prevalence of mainstream pornography, considering its impact and effects, and raising critical questions regarding feminist resistance within an increasingly pornified society.

Talks on several new books are a key highlight of this year’s Festival:

  • Author Bidisha and award-winning journalist Emily Dugan will be in conversation about their new books on the lives of refugees and immigrants who have made it to the UK, the books go behind the headlines to reveal the personal dramas of ordinary men and women trying to make a new life in the UK.
  • Professor John Macnicol will be discussing his new book (due out this week), which examines the effect of neoliberalism on the recent ageing and social policy agenda in the UK and the USA.The book outlines past theories of old age and examines pensions reform, the debate on life expectancy gains, the causes of retirement, the idea of intergenerational equity, the current debate on ageism/age discrimination and the likely human consequences of raising state pension ages.
  • Paul Wallace, a leading commentator on the economics of the European Union, will also be talking about his new book, The Euro Experiment, which explains how and why the euro crisis happened, and the implications for the economic and political future of Europe.
  • Professor Ulinka Rublack's new book, The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Defence of his Mother (due out this month), tells the shocking story of how the mother of the famous scientist Kepler was accused of witchcraft. In conversation with Juliet Mitchell, the author explores historical resistance to women as well as ways in which families have been implicated in mechanisms of power.

Established in 2008, Cambridge Festival of Ideas aims to fuel the public’s interest in arts, humanities and social sciences. The events, ranging from talks, debates and film screenings to exhibitions and comedy nights, are held in lecture halls, theatres, museums and galleries around Cambridge. Of the over 250 events at the Festival, most are free.

The Festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, St John’s College, Anglia Ruskin University, RAND Europe, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Cambridge Live, University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Garden, Arts Council England, Cambridge Junction, British Science Association, Heritage Lottery Fund, Heffers, WOW Festival, Southbank Centre, Collusion, TTP Group, Goethe Institut, Index on Censorship and BBC Cambridgeshire.

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