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Episode 12 - We are what we do, with Professor Steven Connor

In this final episode of the CRASSH 20th anniversary year, we ask the centre’s Director, and Grace 2 Professor of English at Cambridge, Steven Connor, whether what we do for a living can ever, or should ever, be anything other than drudgery? Thousands of column inches in the past year have been devoted to ‘The Great Resignation’, or ‘The Big Quit’ – a mass rebellion by millions of disgruntled employees worldwide who decided their current work just isn’t working for them any longer.  Employment, then, is yet another thing to be re-worked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but less examined is why we even do it in the first place. Connor’s latest research project, the culmination of a 40-year academic career, aims to unpack our deeply, and sometimes unconsciously, held beliefs about what we ‘do’. He himself is never less than fully and happily occupied, but also shares his thoughts on what could, and should, constitute ‘serious’ academic work in the Humanities. And it starts by allowing ourselves to admit that, despite our very best efforts to conceal it, we are having an awful lot of fun. Find out more: The CRASSH website includes Q&As on Steven’s two recent books; one with Imke van Heerden in June 2019 (, on the strangeness of ‘the species that styles itself sapiens’, as discussed in his book The Madness of Knowledge (, and the other, with Judith Weik in October 2019 ( on the nastiness of the idea of agency and the associated ‘lexicon of the illimitable’ in Giving Way: Thoughts on Unappreciated Dispositions (   He discusses his writing and especially his more recent work, in the podcast Critical Attitudes, a conversation with Nathan Waddell in March 2021:   Thaumodynamics: Making a Living in Great Expectations, the Hilda Hulme Lecture given for the Institute of English Studies, London, in June 2021: Ceremonics ( is a brief prospectus for the sequence of books he has been writing since 2019 on social performativities. The sequence includes Giving Way: Thoughts on Unappreciated Dispositions (2019); A History of Asking (2022) and Seriously, Though (2022). Essays on crisis-behaviour, desperation styles, anger-management, wishing-rituals and faith-operations form part of this ongoing enquiry. More of Steven Connor’s essays, broadcasts and works-in-progress can be read, heard or watched on his website

About Thoughtlines

Thoughtlines brings you the best academic thinking outside the box from CRASSH at the University of Cambridge. The podcast is presented by Catherine Galloway and produced by Carl Homer at Cambridge TV. The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) is an interdisciplinary research centre at the University of Cambridge. Founded in 2001, CRASSH came into being as a way to create interdisciplinary dialogue across the University’s many faculties and departments in the arts, social sciences and humanities, as well as to build bridges with scientific subjects. It has now grown into one of the largest humanities institutes in the world and is a major presence in academic life in the UK. It serves at once to draw together disciplinary perspectives in Cambridge and to disseminate new ideas to audiences across Europe and beyond. Access more episodes, subscribe, and learn more.