Festival of Ideas May 2015

Please note: this season finished in May 2015
Festival of Ideas May 2015 - brochure cover

The eleventh May Festival of Ideas takes place right after the general election – perhaps the most uncertain and contentious for many decades. The Festival will be looking at the implications of the election results and the programme of the new government from June and into the autumn. In the meantime, there’s much to debate and enjoy in May.

We’re delighted to announce the launch of a new annual lecture series from 2015 with Vintage Publishers. Our first lecturer is Yuval Noah Harari, author of the remarkable book Sapiens.

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s death. We’re creating a city-wide reading group of the Malcolm X autobiography – a remarkable book still – with 1000 copies freely distributed.

Acclaimed psychologist Philip Zimbardo looks at men and technology; we debate why companies are too big to jail; look at the Great Depression and the great recession; have Steve Bell on the coalition; examine the legacy of Simone de Beauvoir; and discuss philosophy with John Gray, Susan Neiman, AC Grayling, Theodore Zeldin and Julian Baggini.

The Bristol 2015 programme also looks at extinction and de-extinction, natural capital and the Anthropocene. There’s fiction with Colm Tóibín; Cory Doctorow on information freedom; Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on Englishness; Lynsey Addario on her photography and war; and an evening examining modern Russia.

As ever, it's a packed programme of stimulating events - see you there!

Visit for details of all the talks happening in Bristol at Watershed and beyond.

Ticket prices: £5.00 - £8.00

Previous events in this Season

Hadley Freeman looks back at the American films of the 1980s, detailing the decade's key players, genres and tropes, and explains why Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles should be put on school syllabuses immediately.

Read More - Hadley Freeman - Life Moves Pretty Fast

Julian Baggini blends philosophy, neuroscience, sociology and cognitive science, and draws on scientific research and fascinating encounters with expert witnesses to bring the issues raised by the possibilities and denials of free will vividly to life.

Read More - Julian Baggini - Freedom Regained

From the ruins of the Soviet and American histories, McKenzie Wark looks fo a way to understand and combat climate change and provides a message of hope.

Read More - McKenzie Wark - Molecular Red

In the face of the global, local, and national destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems, in this talk economist Dieter Helm offers a crucial set of strategies for establishing natural capital policy that is balanced, economically sustainable, and politically viable.

Read More - Dieter Helm - Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet (CANCELLED)

Peter Pomerantsev takes us deep into the heart of modern Russia, from the 'Gold-digger' academies teaching women how to marry a millionaire, to the lives of Hells Angels, convinced they are messiahs, and the gangsters turned filmmakers.

Read More - Peter Pomerantsev - Nothing is True and Everything is Possible

Veteran Greenpeace activist Ben Stewart tells the dramatic and inspiring story of the incarceration of the 'Arctic 30' and the ensuing emotional campaign to bring the protesters home.

Read More - Ben Stewart - Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear, Don’t Beg

Science writer, playwright and novelist George Zarkadakis explores one of humankind’s oldest love–hate relationships – our ties with Artificial Intelligence or AI.

Read More - George Zarkadakis - In Our Own Image

In this fully illustrated presentation photojournalist Lynsey Addario talks about her life and work photographing the Taliban reign, the Iraq war, Darfur, violence against women in the Congo and more.

Read More - Lynsey Addario - It’s What I Do

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown paints a sumptuous and illuminating portrait of who the English have been, bringing an invigorating perspective on what 'Englishness' really means.

Read More - Yasmin Alibhai-Brown - Exotic England

Our series programmed by young people continues with a frank discussion on racism and how it affects the lives of young people today.

Read More - Young People's Festival of Ideas: Racism

Can small artists still thrive in the Internet era? Can giant record labels avoid alienating their audiences? Cory Doctorow examines the pitfalls and the opportunities that creative industries (and individuals) are confronting today.

Read More - Cory Doctorow - Information Doesn’t Want to be Free

Alok Jha tells the story of water, taking us from the Big Bang to the latest developments of modern science.

Read More - Alok Jha - The Water Book

What is the point of working so hard? What can replace the shortage of soulmates? What else can one do in a hotel? Theodore Zeldin demonstrates that both the greatest problems and the greatest opportunities of the twenty-first century lie in our relationships with others.

Read More - Theodore Zeldin - The Hidden Pleasures of Life

In The Challenge of Things AC Grayling looks at the world in a time of war and conflict. In describing and exposing the dark side of things, he also explores ways out of the habits and prejudices of mind that would otherwise trap us forever in the deadly impasses of conflicts of all kinds.

Read More - AC Grayling - The Challenge of Things

Margaret Heffernan reveals how organisations around the globe have managed to change themselves in big ways through incremental shifts in their thinking.

Read More - Margaret Heffernan - Beyond Measure

We flatter ourselves that we yearn to be free - but what is it that we actually want when we seek freedom? In this talk John Gray draws together religious, philosophic and fantastical traditions that question the very idea of human freedom.

Read More - John Gray - The Soul of the Marionette

Philosopher Susan Neiman explores the forces that are arrayed against growing up and maturity, and shows us how philosophy can help us want to grow up. She argues that being a grown-up is itself an ideal: one that is rarely achieved in its entirety, but all the more worth striving for.

Read More - Susan Neiman - Why Grow Up?

Every day, all around the world, women are reinventing what it means to be female in cultures where power, privilege or basic freedoms are all too often equated with being male.

Read More - Caroline Criado-Perez - Do It Like a Woman …and Change the World

Ann Oakley and Angie Pegg, who both contributed to the documentary, join Imogen Sutton and others for a panel to discuss what Simone de Beauvoir’s writing means today.

Read More - Daughters of de Beauvoir

Professor Barry Aichengreen examines why policymakers didn't do better after the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession, which began in 2008.

Read More - Barry Eichengreen - The Great Depression and the Great Recession

How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? Yuval Harari will examine the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to modern day.

Read More - Sapiens: The Vintage Annual Lecture with Yuval Noah Harari

The Guardian's political cartoonist Steve Bell presents his latest collection, which covers the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

Read More - Steve Bell - If…on the Coalition

Brandon L Garrett takes us into a complex, compromised world of backroom bank deals, in an unprecedented look at what happens when criminal charges are brought against a major company in the United States and abroad.

Read More - Brandon L Garrett - Too Big to Jail

Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. In this talk Beth Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in ancient DNA research, walks us through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction.

Read More - Beth Shapiro - How to Clone a Mammoth

Colm Tóibín is one of contemporary literature’s most critically acclaimed authors. He talks about his career and writing, in particular his new non-fiction work, an introduction to the work and life of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop, and his eighth novel Nora Webster.

Read More - Colm Tóibín - Nora Webster

Award-winning Observer writer Miranda Sawyer takes a funny look at the midlife crisis, and asks what it means for the future of the still-youth-obsessed UK.

Read More - Miranda Sawyer - The Observer Lecture 2015: Fear of Forty

Young men are failing as never before - academically, socially and sexually. But why, and what can be done about it? Psychologist Dr Philip Zimbardo reveals how modern manhood has hit crisis point and argues that urgent steps must be taken for the good of society.

Read More - Philip Zimbardo - How Technology Has Sabotaged what it Means to be Male