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WiCDS hosts Doing Human conference

- By Wits University

The ‘human’ is not a self-evident category but has in fact always been a site of contestation shaped within unequal power relations.

The Wits Centre for Diversity Studies hosts the international Doing Human Conference 2015 from 14 to 16 April 2015 at Wits University. 

The conference will critically discuss the construct/performance of doing ‘human’. Powerful groups appropriate the right to define ‘human’ in ways that centre themselves and their interests. Perhaps the most pervasive vehicle of this dynamic in modern history has been Western Cartesian paradigms of humanism that have valorised the white European heterosexual able-bodied middle-class man.

This privileged global minority has positioned itself as the embodiment of the normal way of ‘doing’ human. Critical scholarship poses important challenges to this hegemonic position through deconstruction of the systems of power, privilege and oppression that have established such exclusive definitions of what it means to be and do human. View the programme.

“In order to create a functioning diverse society where difference is not used to disadvantage some and privilege others, we need to interrogate and correct how different groups are valued in relation to each other. The most formidable and dangerous mechanism for devaluing others has been the tendency to regard less powerful groups as less human than ourselves,” says Professor Melissa Steyn, Director of the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies.

History shows us that once this happens, people feel justified to do terrible things to other beings  -- to keep them in captivity, destroy their environments, extract unfair labour, control their reproduction, deny their emotional life, and more, even exterminate them. “We need to ask ourselves if the concept itself is up to the task of creating a society in which we don’t do these things, or is it part of the problem? Do we have the best possible understanding of what it means to ‘do human’? ” says Steyn.    

The conference will be opened during a welcome and registration cocktail function on Monday, 13 April 2015 at the Wits Club. Read more.

A public event, titled A different kind of human will be held on Tuesday, 14 April 2015, which will feature an eminent panel of artists, writers, and filmmakers. Each panellist will speak briefly about how their work relates to the topic of “doing human”, specifically how their work problematises, resists or deconstructs the notion of the human in terms of those represented in their work or why they are represented the way they are.

The panel discussion will be chaired by Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib. Click here for more details.

For more details visit the Doing Human 2015 conference website. For general enquiries contact or for booking enquiries contact