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Festival of Ideas

Who Decides What is Polite and Reasonable? Kirsty Sedgman

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Is there a right and a wrong way of doing things? How do we decide what they are? Author and cultural studies scholar Kirsty Sedgman looks into questions around manners and behaviour, to explore the lines we draw between good vs. bad, appropriate vs. inappropriate, polite vs. rude.

In a world where no-one seems to be able to agree on anything, how do we decide what is considered to be ‘reasonable’?

Whether it’s breastfeeding in public or tearing down statues of slave traders, there are social codes for what is considered ‘decent’, ‘disrespectful’ or ‘common sense’. But who defines these parameters? Where did the rules come from in the first place, and are they actually what’s best for us today? In a world where we all think we’re being reasonable, how can we figure out what’s right?

Kirsty Sedgman joins us to examine the prejudices, biases and idiosyncrasies that make up our modern social contract, and how we have become divided along lines of gender, class, disability, sexuality and race.

Sometimes, breaking the rules might make things better.

Kirsty Sedgman’s On Being Unreasonable: Breaking the Rules and Making Things Better was our February Book of the Month.

Kirsty Sedgman is a cultural studies expert who specialises in audience experience and human behaviour. Based at the University of Bristol, she has spoken about her research around the world, and has seen her work featured in outlets including BBC Front Row, the Times Literary SupplementGuardian, and New York Times.

Andrew Kelly

Andrew Kelly is Director, Bristol Ideas. He is a visiting professor at the University of the West of England and has written or edited 20 books on subjects ranging from film and cinema to aviation and Bristol’s rich cultural history.

On Being Unreasonable: Breaking the Rules and Making Things Better by Kirsty Sedgman is published by Faber & Faber.

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