Bristol Festival of Ideas at Waterstones

Festival of Ideas

The Bristol Festival of Ideas aims to stimulate people’s minds and passions with an inspiring programme of discussion and debate throughout the year.

Waterstones in The Galleries is a regular Festival of Ideas venue and this spring hosts a number of events.

All events run from 7-8pm, unless otherwise stated, and tickets are priced at £8/£6.

Thangam Debbonaire, Laura Gardiner, Gavin Kelly and Nick Pearce – What Lies Beyond Brexit?

Wednesday 24 April

Festival of ideas

What will the Brexit decision mean for this country’s economy, society and politics? Anticipating the challenges of the 2020s, Laura Gardiner and Gavin Kelly from the Resolution Foundation and Bristol MP Thangam Debbonaire join Nick Pearce from the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR) to explore how Britain might change in the aftermath of the current Brexit storm. Discussing everything from the UK’s economy model, migration, political parties and housing, to the challenge of generational conflict, tax and spending and trade, they analyse how Brexit will shape the future of the country.

This event will launch Britain Beyond Brexit, a new collection of essays edited by Gavin Kelly and Nick Pearce and published by The Political Quarterly.

Please be aware that Thangam Debbonaire’s appearance will depend on Parliamentary commitments which may change at short notice.

Book HERE.

Rachel Reeves MP – What’s the Future of Women in Politics?

Thursday 25 April

Festival of Ideas

There are more women in parliament than ever. 208 women MPs were elected to the House of Commons in the General Election of 2017, a record high of 32 per cent of the total. There are 206 female peers, making up 26 per cent of Members of the House of Lords. At the same time, the process of Parliament remains antiquated: in one recent vote, an MP had to delay her caesarean-section birth to vote in a critical debate; another had the decades-old principle of pairing broken as she was on maternity leave. Female politicians continue to face attacks on social media, and in person, much more than male MPs.

100 years ago, Nancy Astor became the first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons. Since then, women MPs from across the political spectrum have worked passionately for political change both to policy and to the culture of Westminster, yet their achievements have all too often been overlooked. Rachel Reeves, economist and Labour MP, has recovered much of this history. She talks about the future of women in politics based on her own pioneering work and her experience as an MP. She tells the stories of the sometimes forgotten MPs who made major change happen – from campaigns for equal suffrage to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the legalisation of abortion, equal pay, child benefit, maternity and paternity leave, and against sexual harassment.

This event is part of the annual Coleridge Series, inspired by Coleridge’s wide-ranging and radical lectures in Bristol in the 1790s.

Book HERE.

Julia Shaw – Are You Evil?: The science behind humanity’s dark side

Friday 26 April

Festival of Ideas

Julia Shaw has explored the darkest recesses of the human mind. In this wide-ranging event, she will talk about the deviance that lies in ourselves and others, drawing on science, popular culture and real life examples.

Why do the same dispositions that make us capable of heinous crimes also work to our advantage? If evil is within all of us, should it be said to exist at all? How similar is your brain to that of a psychopath? How many people have murder fantasies? Can A.I. be evil? Do your sexual proclivities make you a bad person? Who becomes a terrorist? This is a fascinating, darkly compelling, provocative, challenging subject that Shaw approaches with academic rigour and rationality.

Book HERE.

Nicci Gerrard – What Can Dementia Teach Us About Love?

Monday 29 April

Festival of Ideas

In 2015, an estimated 850,000 people in the UK were living with a form of dementia; the same number thought to be undiagnosed. As the population ages, it is estimated that this figure will increase to over 1 million by 2021 and 2 million by 2051.

After her father’s slow death from dementia, writer and campaigner Nicci Gerrard set out to explore the illness that now touches millions of us around the world. In her latest book, What Dementia Teaches Us About Love, she speaks to those affected by the disease: from people living with dementia and families trying to make sense of the changes to their loved ones, to the scientists unlocking the mysteries of the brain and therapists using art and music to enrich the lives of sufferers.

In conversation with Jenny Lacey, she discusses issues around memory, language, identity, ageing and the notion of what it truly means to care, asking what – in the end – really matters.

Book HERE.

Nick Cohen -Is Social Media Ruining Good Journalism and Politics?

Tuesday 30 April

Festival of Ideas

The last decade has seen the unrelenting rise of social media. Millions of people now get their first view of news and opinion from Facebook and Twitter. This has not just had an impact on newspaper sales; it has seen fundamental changes in news gathering and reporting. It has also seen the rise of fake news, debates about what truth means, alternative facts, and attacks on journalists, experts, elites and “the MSM”. What has it meant to be a journalist and commentator in the midst of this? What would a world of news look like if social media continues to grow and newspapers fail? What does this mean for civic and political life?

Nick Cohen is one of our leading commentators with a weekly column in the Observer and a regular writer for the Spectator and Standpoint. He looks at the future of journalism and political debate in this new age.

This event is part of the annual Coleridge Series, inspired by Coleridge’s wide-ranging and radical lectures in Bristol in the 1790s.

Book HERE.

Kenan Malik – Who Has the Right to Speak?

Tuesday 21 May

Festival of Ideas

The government bans unacceptable speakers from entering the country. Courts jail ‘hate preachers’. Social media companies delete ‘offensive’ accounts. Companies sack workers for ‘inappropriate’ comments. Student unions no-platform feminist ‘transphobes’. Twitter mobs hound people off social media. Academics set up a journal to allow researchers, fearful for their jobs, to publish anonymously.

Is freedom of speech under threat in Britain? Are we living in particularly censorious times?  How does the debate about free speech relate to the growth of identity politics? What should be the limits to freedom of expression? Does the promotion of free speech undermine campaigns to limit bigotry and hatred? How can we encourage public debate about controversial issues when many find any discussion of such issues offensive? Author and commentator Kenan Malik explores the history of free speech, analyses the contemporary status of freedom of expression, and lays out what we need to do for the future.

This event is part of the annual Coleridge Series, inspired by Coleridge’s wide-ranging and radical lectures in Bristol in the 1790s.

Book HERE.

Naomi Wolf – Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love

Wednesday 22 May – 6.30-7.30pm

Festival of Ideas

Bestselling author Naomi Wolf illuminates a dramatic history – how a single English law in 1857 led to a maelstrom, with reverberations lasting down to our day.

That law was the Obscene Publications Act and it was a crucial turning point. Why? Because dissent and morality; ‘deviancy’ and ‘normalcy’; unprintable and printable were suddenly lawful concepts in the modern sense. This new law effectively invented modern obscenity. In a single stroke, not only was love between men illegal, but anything referring to this love also became unspeakable. And writers, editors and printers became the gatekeepers with a responsibility to uphold the morals of society – followed by serious criminal penalties if they didn’t. Wolf describes the ways this set of laws and consolidation of what we would call homophobia and censorship played out. She examines the idea of the state’s purported need and right to police speech – an idea which is with us to this day.

Book HERE.

Joan Smith – Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men into Terrorists

Wednesday 29 May

Festival of Ideas

In the debate about what makes a terrorist, a striking common factor has long been overlooked – a history of domestic violence. Journalist Joan Smith was the first person to point out that all of the 2017 UK terrorist attackers had a history of domestic violence. From the Manchester bomber, who was known to police for assaulting a woman, to the London Bridge attackers, who abused their wives, mothers and sisters, the portrait is shockingly clear.

Terrorism is treated as a special category of crime and this has blinded us to the obvious – that it is, almost always, male violence. It stands beside cases such as those of the Finsbury Park Mosque attacker and the Florida school shooter: these are atrocities committed by privately abusive men whose public outbursts costs lives. The Charlie Hebdo killers provide a further insight into the role of childhood trauma in developing violent behaviour. But the greatest proof lies in ISIS, the world’s biggest violent boys’ gang, who deliberately recruit youths who have been inured to cruelty and rape. Until Joan Smith’s radical outcry in 2017, the authorities missed this link – largely because violence against women is dangerously normalised in our culture. Yet, since domestic abuse often comes before a public attack acting as a rehearsal and deadening levels of empathy and horror in the perpetrators – acknowledging this link provides a weapon against the scourge of our age. Smith sets out a course of action that could transform our approach to domestic abuse and save countless lives on our streets. In conversation with Finn Mackay.

Book HERE.

Paul Davies – Can Organised Information Solve the Mysteries of Life?

Monday 3 June

Festival of Ideas

Darwin’s account of the origin of living things makes no attempt to answer the deepest question, what is life? What is the origin of DNA? What explains the astounding properties of biological organisms? There is a gap in our knowledge and it seems unbridgeable without fundamentally new concepts. Now, an answer is at hand. In this event, physicist Paul Davies outlines how ‘organised information’ may be the key to understanding new laws of life.

From DNA through cell signalling to brains and ecosystems, hidden patterns of information emerge and combine to conjure order out of chaos. It is here, Davies asserts, at the intersection of biology, physics and information theory, that scientists are finally elucidating the deepest laws of life. Dazzling advances in nanotechnology and biophysics have demonstrated how living organisms manipulate information to power molecular motors, control chemical reactions and navigate the uncertain world of molecular randomness. These discoveries are upending established ideas in biology, medicine and the search for life beyond Earth. Davies explains his own thinking about physics, life and complexity, and lays out the foundations for the next great frontier in science, in which new physical laws will be understood and exploited.

In conversation with Margaret Heffernan.

Book HERE.

Michael Pollan – Can Psychedelics Change Your Mind?

Wednesday 5 June

Festival of Ideas

Michael Pollan discusses the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs – and tells the story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences.

Diving deep into both the latest brain science and the thriving underground community of psychedelic therapists, Pollan talks about the scientists, professionals, seekers and patients exploring the effects of LSD on our minds, creativity and health. He sifts through the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, and asks how, in a world that offers us both suffering and joy, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.

In conversation with Sarah Ditum.

Book HERE.

Celebrating Helen Dunmore – Patricia Ferguson, Sian Norris and Helen Taylor

Thursday 6 June – Free admission

Festival of Ideas

Helen Dunmore, who died in 2017, was widely recognised as one of the most acclaimed and talented writers of her generation; in their obituary, the Guardian described her as a ‘poet and novelist with a flair for reinvention and making history human’.

Dunmore moved to Bristol in the late 1970s and soon after started making a name for herself with her poetry collection The Apple Fall. As a novelist, her works include A Spell of Winter (which won the 1996 Orange Prize), The Siege (shortlisted for the Orange and Whitbread Prizes and the 2005 Great Reading Adventure), The Betrayal (longlisted for the Booker Prize) and her last novel Birdcage Walk, which is set in Bristol. Inside the Wave, her final poetry collection was awarded (posthumously) the Costa Book of the Year. Girl, Balancing & Other Stories was published in 2018 and Counting Backwards, a poetry retrospective covering over four decades of work was published this February.

Join us for an evening to celebrate her novels and poems with fellow Bristol writers Patricia Ferguson, Sian Norris and Helen Taylor.

We would love to hear from you too, so please do bring your favourite poem or extract to share with the rest of the audience.

This is a free event but there will be a collection in aid of St Peter’s Hospice, Bristol on the night.

Book HERE.

Angela Saini – Superior: The Return of Race Science

Monday 10 June

Festival of Ideas

Modern science is pivotal in our understanding of race – not because of the lines that thinkers through the centuries have chosen to trace around human groups, but because, once grouped, what they thought belonging to these groups signified.

Join award-winning science writer Angela Saini as she explores the concepts of race and human variation, both past and present. She dissects the political roots of race, why scientists can’t seem to look beyond it, and the dark and dangerous ways in which scientific racism persists to this day.

In conversation with Sarah Ditum.

Book HERE.

David Blanchflower – Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?

Tuesday 11 June

Festival of Ideas

Don’t trust low unemployment numbers as proof that the labour market is doing fine – it isn’t. David Blanchflower talks about those who can’t find full-time work at a decent wage – the underemployed – and how their plight is contributing to widespread despair, a worsening drug epidemic, and the unchecked rise of right-wing populism.

Drawing on his acclaimed work in the economics of labour and well-being he explains why today’s post-recession economy is vastly different from what came before. He calls out our leaders and policymakers for failing to see the Great Recession coming, and for their continued failure to address one of the most unacknowledged social catastrophes of our time.

In conversation with Harry Pitt.

Book HERE.

Tracy K Smith – Eternity: Poetry and Politics

Wednesday 12 June

Festival of Ideas

Tracy K Smith is America’s poet laureate. Her work – from The Body’s Question (2003) to Wade in the Water (2018) – addresses what it means to be a citizen, a mother and an artist in a culture arbitrated by wealth, men and violence. In this event, she reads from her new collection, Eternity, and discusses poetry and politics.

Writing in the New York Times in December 2018, Smith argued that political poetry, ‘even here in America, has done much more than vent. It has become a means of owning up to the complexity of our problems, of accepting the likelihood that even we the righteous might be implicated by or complicit in some facet of the very wrongs we decry. Poems willing to enter into this fraught space don’t merely stand on the bank calling out instructions on how or what to believe; they take us by the arm and walk us into the lake, wetting us with the muddied and the muddled, and sometimes even the holy.’

Chaired by Sarah LeFanu.

Book HERE.

Paul Collier – Does Capitalism Have a Future?

Wednesday 26 June

Festival of Ideas

Capitalism is in crisis and many question if it can survive. It’s faced problems before, but the crisis has intensified since the crash. Economic growth is sluggish and the benefits of capitalism are not shared widely. Deep new rifts are tearing apart the fabric of Britain and other Western societies: thriving cities versus the provinces, the highly-skilled elite versus the less educated, wealthy versus developing countries. Economist Paul Collier believes we have lost the sense of ethical obligation to others that was crucial to the rise of post-war social democracy. So far these rifts have been answered only by the revivalist ideologies of populism and socialism, leading to the seismic upheavals of Trump, Brexit and the return of the far right in Germany.

Collier outlines ways to heal these economic, social and cultural rifts. Based on personal experience of having lived across these three divides – moving from working-class Sheffield to hyper-competitive Oxford, and working between Britain and Africa – he shows us how to save capitalism from itself – and free ourselves from the intellectual baggage of the 20th century.

This event is part of the annual Coleridge Series, inspired by Coleridge’s wide-ranging and radical lectures in Bristol in the 1790s.

Please note the date of this event has changed from Tuesday 14 May. If you purchased tickets for that date and can no longer attend, Bristol Festival of Ideas will issue a full refund.

Book HERE.

Further information

To find out more about Bristol Festival of Ideas, including the full programme, visit ideasfestival.co.uk