The Humility Gap

How can intellectual humility shape our public discourse on contentious issues around gender, race and histories of injustice?

A series of podcasts exploring intellectual humility and the self in public debate featuring leading Oxford academics.

Open mindedness is generally perceived as a positive trait, but how can we be open minded in discussions around gender, race and histories of injustice; debates which often tap into deep emotions, closely guarded identities and experiences of oppression?

Each of these themes has been at the centre of recent contentious debates including the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, which notably came to Oxford; the #ImmodestWomen campaign on Twitter, which began with female academics responding to the lack of respect and authority accorded them; and recent exchanges in the national press centred on Oxford’s ‘Ethics and Empire’ project. Debates on these topics may begin within an academic context but quickly move into the media, social media, political and public spheres and are of wide interest.

Capitalising on the interest around these news stories, the Humility Gap project will catalyse a constructive discussion on the nature and place of intellectual humility in academic enquiry and wider public discourse. We will seek to identify and explore the key barriers to open minded debate, with a particular focus on the difficulty of presenting our own experiences, identities and emotions in intellectually humble ways.

We will ask: How can we recognise and confess the limits of our own experience? How can we be openminded as we seek to draw attention to unacknowledged injustices? How do groups who have been denied a public voice, and are often discounted in public debate, engage with the virtue of intellectual humility?

Over the academic year 2018-19, the Humility Gap project will produce a series of podcasts, one significant public event and a number of editorials to catalyse conversation around these complex questions. Whilst the project will begin by drawing on the contributions of our existing network of Oxford academics, we will also move beyond the academy, paying attention to how these debates play out in the media and political arenas. We will draw on leading figures in each of these fields to participate in podcast discussions and interviews. These interviews will feed through into op-eds, offering an even wider audience an opportunity to share in the conversation.

Our public event will be a launch for the podcasts but will also draw together a diverse group from the academy, media and politics. In doing so we hope to offer opportunities for conversations between these groups, opening up a discussion around shared responsibilities and challenges relating to the pursuit of open minded and intellectually humble public discourse.

The Humility Gap project is funded by a fellowship from the University of Connecticut’s Humility and Conviction Project and is led by Dr Bethan Willis.