Dystopian Futures and Utopian Possibilities: Update from the workshop

Dystopic Futures and Utopian Possibilities

Living in an era of ecological emergency, rising intolerance and worsening global insecurity, it is easy to say that we are living in dystopic times. The lines between reality and fiction appear to blur in a post-truth age where technology, ideologies and forms of social interaction are seen to produce dismal hopes for the future. Dystopian fiction and film is increasingly popular as we try to imagine the scenarios and conditions that are our possible future selves and societies.  At the same time, the utopian possibilities that emerge from rethinking capitalism and imagining new futures offers some counterbalance not only to the dystopian imagination but challenges the legacies that have produced it.

In this workshop, Sabina Sestigiani and I wanted to explore the interdisciplinary perspectives on dystopias/utopias. But we also wanted to find ways to think about what possibilities reside in such images of dystopia/utopia, and what the relationship is between fiction/reality. While it is easy enough to see our current age as a reflection of a ‘living dystopia’, what does that actually mean? How do we identify the dystopic moment or event and understand it in temporal, ethical and ideological terms?

Our workshop covered a lot of ground on these points. We opened with an interdisciplinary coverage of technology and its relationship to utopias and dystopias.  Son Vivienne discussed ideas about embracing the dystopic in terms of identity and gender. Here, Australia’s marriage equality debates and work on LGBTQI digital story telling through social media spaces raised questions about authoring the self online and being seen/not seen. Alex Edney-Browne explored how technology renders certain bodies invisible under drone vision. The much touted accuracy of drones – an important part of how drones are not only fetishised but seen as ‘the only game in town’ – is flawed. What the drone can and cannot see has significant impact on how we understand modern warfare and the erasure of (certain) bodies. Sabina‘s exploration of Tommaso Landolfi’s 1950 novel Cancroregina also examined how technology, language and space were imagined as both liberating and dystopic. By drawing on Levinas and Blanchot, the implications of leaving place – aspects of uprootedness/enrootedness – contain some utopian possibilities.

Dystopian fiction continued the theme as we explored Michel Houellebecq’s novel Soumission (Submission). Jacqueline Dutton provided a fascinating tour of the political, cultural and social landscape of a France in crisis, which serves as the background to the novel.  But Houellebecq’s vision is not the only one that is dystopic. Surveying the state of French literature over the last decade, we find a ‘national depression’ as the theme: France is not France anymore, and optimism for the future comes from outside, rather than from within, where the foreigner saves ‘France’.  I also covered Submission, focusing on themes of demographics – or ‘demodystopias‘ – and gender. Reading Houellebecq presents a range of debates on the point of gender – how Houellebecq sees how France sees women, Houellebecq’s own views, and how we should interpret. Ruby  Rose Niemann also explored gender and environmental destruction in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction. The connection between ecofeminist ideas and how Atwood writes the feminine in to eco-dystopias is significant in how we imagine not simply singular dystopias but those that rely on different dystopias too.

 

The problems identified in our ideas about dystopia and utopian possibilities for change were also treated to a wider perspective with Shannon Brincat‘s problematising of imagination and its limits. Brincat argued that we need to reclaim imagination as an intrinsic part of social and political life and current theorising of world politics requires urgent revision. International Relations theorising was identified as particularly limited in this regard, despite the inherent utopian potential: the category of imagination is limited and vilified. Drawing on Vygotsky’s work on ‘creative activity’, we explored questions relating to ideology, economics, culture and education. Stefanie Fishels intervention on ‘humans’ living with ‘nature’ also extended the realms of what we include in our dystopian/utopian imaginaries, and how we can think about heterotopias as mirror or counter sites. Aside from learning new things about bin chickens, coyotes, and human spaces, the deeper questions of environment, extinction and political possibilities drew attention to what is at stake beyond human dystopias. Arran Gare‘s discussion on ideology and ecological civilisation also put utopian possibilities firmly back on the table. Thinking through Ricoeur’s work on ideology and utopia, the challenges to neoliberalism and global capitalism, is necessary in similar ways to arguments about the need for reclaiming imagination.

 

Moving beyond the workshop

The debates stemming from the workshop will be extended over time. We plan to put together an interdisciplinary reading list on utopian and dystopian literature, extend a call out to future workshops and publish.  More on this soon.

Get in touch with us if you want to collaborate!

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Preliminary Programme: Dystopian Futures & Utopian Possibilities workshop

We’ve received a fab selection of abstracts in our latest call for our forthcoming workshop on dystopian futures and utopian possibilities. We have a few more to add to the programme but for now, we’re too excited and can’t wait so here is the current line up:

 

  • ‘Non-binary trans-being as creative hactivism’ Son Vivienne (RMIT)
  • ‘The Dystopian Present of Drone Warfare, and Possibilities for Resistance’ Alex Edney-Browne (University of Melbourne)
  • ‘Leaving the Place: Tommaso Landolfi’s Cancroregina read through Blanchot and Levinas’ Sabina Sestigiani (Swinburne University of Technology)
  • ‘Recognising utopia in Dystopian Times: France as a Case in Literature and life’ Jacqueline Dutton (University of Melbourne)
  • ‘Reading gender and immigration in Michel Houellebecq’s SoumissionChristine Agius (Swinburne University of Technology)
  • ‘Gender at the End of the World: Female Exploitation and Environmental Destruction in Margaret Atwood’s Dystopian Fiction’ Ruby Rose Niemann (University of Adelaide)
  • ‘The Social Faculty of Imagination: Bringing Vygotsky into World Politics’ Shannon Brincat (University of the Sunshine Coast)
  • ‘Heterotopic Ecologies’ Stefanie Fishel (University of Alabama)
  • ‘Dystopia, and Utopia in the Australian Nuclear Imaginary’ N.A.J. Taylor (University of Melbourne)
  • ‘Ecological Civilization as an Effective Utopian Vision’ Arran Gare (Swinburne University of Technology)

More updates soon!

Dystopic futures and utopian possibilities

An exploratory, interdisciplinary workshop to be held May 5, 2018, at Hawthorn Arts Centre.

In the era of Brexit, Trump, the Anthropocene, rising intolerance and inequality, and greater global insecurity, it is easy to conclude that we are living in dystopic times. For many, dystopia is not something to fear for the future, but is our present situation. Dystopian imaginaries have featured prominently in popular culture: film, art, television, and literature provide visions of despair and possibility. Science fiction so far has dominated such imaginings, from the dichotomy of benevolent or malevolent technology (Toscano, 2012) or alternate visions for overcoming political inequalities and differences, as seen in astro-futurism as a form of either utopian or dystopian space frontier projection (Kilgore, 2003).  Political, social and philosophical debate has likewise engaged with the implications for our future selves in the wake of advances in technology, science, truth claims, and social organisation.

But what does it mean to say we live in dystopian times, particularly when dystopia for some is utopia for others? In this workshop, we explore the narratives and functions of dystopian and utopian imaginaries, focusing on the nexus between dichotomies and binaries that split the idea of the dystopian from the normal or even the utopian imaginary. Furthermore, what emancipatory practices or possibilities emerge from dystopian visions? How do dystopian visions offer opportunities to reimagine and rebuild worlds, or find new ones? What problematics might we encounter and should we ‘utopia as hard as we can’, as China Mieville suggests, even via uncomfortable means?

As part of an interdisciplinary investigation, we are interested in exploring the ways in which we can think about dystopias and utopias across a range of fields and cases, as well as bring together different approaches and possibilities. We invite papers that may include, but are not limited to, a focus on dystopias and utopias from the following themes:

  • Temporality, distinctions and connections between utopias, dystopias and ‘realities’ (dystopias as intensities, moments, or continuities) or the relationship between dystopia, utopia and modernity
  • Dystopias and security
  • Identity and dystopia
  • Modernism and other utopian or dystopian projects
  • Technology and the utopian/dystopian nexus
  • Philosophical interventions
  • Capitalism, political economy and Marxist perspectives
  • Gender, subjectivity and dystopia
  • Narratives, discourses, and fictions of dystopia and utopia
  • Frontiers and colonies of utopias/dystopias, including Afrofuturism

Publication plans will also be part of the workshop agenda.

Catering will be provided for participants, although we will not be able to fund other costs, such as flights and accommodation.

Please send a 150-200 word abstract to Sabina Sestigiani (ssestigiani@swin.edu.au) by 1 March, 2018.

PLACE, POLITICS AND PRIVILEGE CONFERENCE 2017

To be held: Thursday 16-Friday 17 February 2017. Melbourne Australia
Flinders St Melbourne City Centre Campus, Victoria University

Place Politics Privilidge Conf 2017_WIP07 RGB

Download the Conference Flyer pdf here: Flyer%2029%20July

A research conference sponsored jointly by:

Community, Identity and Displacement Research Network, Victoria University, Australia http://communityidentity.com.au/

Identity Research Network, Swinburne University
https://identityresearchnetwork.wordpress.com

PLACE, POLITICS AND PRIVILEGE CONFERENCE 2017

Displacement, rupture and transformation increasingly characterise the nature of 21st century belonging and space, with important implications for identities, change and resistance. Despite the ‘liquid’ nature and fluidity of such movement, we are also witnessing struggles to reinscribe prevailing privilege and power relations. As nations and communities deal with mass migration, economic displacement and environmental impact, a variety of responses to crisis and resistance are emerging. Political communities and identities, which are organised non-hierarchically and defy territory, making use of virtual spaces, offer new ways of thinking about change, community and belonging. At the same time, we are also witnessing the revival of borders and the use of physical and virtual space to control and contain such impulses. From new cartographies and geographies, to different flows of life and modalities of organisation, space and place are constantly being revised and reinvented.

In this symposium, we analyse the problems and possibilities that emerge from these configurations in order to consider resistance and modes of identity and belonging.

We invite papers that address following themes from an interdisciplinary perspective:

  • The politics of privilege, displacement and boundary-making: this can include urban design and built environment, architecture, political economy, security, and other fields
  • Space, borders and belonging at the local, national or global scales, including the digital and non-material, as well as radical geographies which respond to mass migration, urban diversity and the reconfiguration of political space
  • New meanings of community: this can include new strategies of cultural identity and resistance, new solidarities, and possibilities for belonging.

Abstracts to be sent to  CIDRN@vu.edu.au by 31 August 2016.

Abstract length 250, MS word format as email attachment with subject line PPPconference.abstract. Include your contact details in the abstract.

The conference will be followed by a refereed publication and all proposed contributions to this volume need to reach organisers by Friday 31 March 2017.

Further information from:

CIDRN@vu.edu.au

Christine Agius:  cagius@swin.edu.au

The politics of identity: Place, space and discourse

We’re thrilled our edited book with Manchester University Press is due out soon!

9781526110244

As you’ll see from the table of contents, we have a fantastic selection of chapters.

1.The politics of identity: making and disrupting identity – Christine Agius and Dean Keep
Part I: Establishing and consolidating identity
2. Co-constituting Fijian identity: the role of constitutions in Fijian national identity – Christopher Mudaliar
3. Australian foreign policy and the vernacular of national belonging – Katie Linnane
4. Gendered identities in peacebuilding: an analysis of post-2006 Timor-Leste -Sarah Smith
5. Agents of peace: place, identity and peacebuilding – Gezim Visoka
Part II: Identity rupture
6. A space for identity: the case of Lebanon’s naturalised Palestinians – Hind Ghandour
7. The Romani ‘camp-dwellers’ in Rome: between state control and ‘collective-identity closure’ – Riccardo Armillei
8. Telling terrorism tales: narrative identity and Homeland – Louise Pears
9. Right(s) from the ground up: internal displacement, the urban periphery and belonging to the city – Helen Berents
Part III: Contesting identity
10. Sweden, military intervention and the loss of memory – Annika Bergman Rosamond and Christine Agius
11. Pollution and purity: caste-based discrimination and the mobilisation of Dalit sameness – Ted Svensson
12. The queer common: resisting the public at Gezi Park and beyond – Paul Gordon Kramer
13. Positive regard for difference without identity – Lucy Nicholas

Thanks to all our fabulous contributors and MUP for seeing this project through! Book is available to order now.

 

 

 

Place, Politics and Privilege: joint conference with CIDRN

We’re excited to announce the Call for Papers for our forthcoming interdisciplinary conference with CIDRN, to be held in Melbourne in Feb 2017. Please spread the word!

CALL FOR PAPERS
PLACE, POLITICS AND PRIVILEGE CONFERENCE 2017

To be held: Thursday 16-Friday 17 February 2017. Melbourne Australia
Flinders St Melbourne City Centre Campus, Victoria University

Place Politics Privilidge Conf 2017_WIP07 RGB

Download the Conference Flyer pdf here: Flyer%2029%20July

A research conference sponsored jointly by:

Community, Identity and Displacement Research Network, Victoria University, Australia http://communityidentity.com.au/

Identity Research Network, Swinburne University
https://identityresearchnetwork.wordpress.com

PLACE, POLITICS AND PRIVILEGE CONFERENCE 2017

Displacement, rupture and transformation increasingly characterise the nature of 21st century belonging and space, with important implications for identities, change and resistance. Despite the ‘liquid’ nature and fluidity of such movement, we are also witnessing struggles to reinscribe prevailing privilege and power relations. As nations and communities deal with mass migration, economic displacement and environmental impact, a variety of responses to crisis and resistance are emerging. Political communities and identities, which are organised non-hierarchically and defy territory, making use of virtual spaces, offer new ways of thinking about change, community and belonging. At the same time, we are also witnessing the revival of borders and the use of physical and virtual space to control and contain such impulses. From new cartographies and geographies, to different flows of life and modalities of organisation, space and place are constantly being revised and reinvented.

In this symposium, we analyse the problems and possibilities that emerge from these configurations in order to consider resistance and modes of identity and belonging.

We invite papers that address following themes from an interdisciplinary perspective:

  • The politics of privilege, displacement and boundary-making: this can include urban design and built environment, architecture, political economy, security, and other fields
  • Space, borders and belonging at the local, national or global scales, including the digital and non-material, as well as radical geographies which respond to mass migration, urban diversity and the reconfiguration of political space
  • New meanings of community: this can include new strategies of cultural identity and resistance, new solidarities, and possibilities for belonging.

Abstracts to be sent to  CIDRN@vu.edu.au by 31 August 2016.

Abstract length 250, MS word format as email attachment with subject line PPPconference.abstract. Include your contact details in the abstract.

The conference will be followed by a refereed publication and all proposed contributions to this volume need to reach organisers by Friday 31 March 2017.

Further information from:

CIDRN@vu.edu.au

Christine Agius:  cagius@swin.edu.au

 

 

Gender, Queer and Feminist Research Network

IRN members may be interested in this exciting new research network being established at Swinburne University.

Affiliated with the Global Justice Flagship in the Institute of Social Research (SISR) and the Department of Education and Social Sciences (DESS), our informal research network will encompass members from across the university, whose interests lie in a range of areas which fall under the headings gender studies, queer theory and/or feminist and queer theoretical analysis/readings of applied social science.

This initiative recognizes the growing profile of gender and queer studies at Swinburne, with an increasing number of staff and research students working in these areas. We wish to foster networks and support an inspiring environment for sharing knowledge. We are also keen to feed into current initiatives that promote equality and diversity across the University.

The first activity is to be a gender theory reading group. The inaugural meeting of the group will be held on May 22nd 2015, 2-4pm. Professor Sandy Gifford would like to extend an invitation to interested parties to read and discuss the first chapter of Lucy Nicholas recent book –  Queer Post-Gender Ethics: The Shape of Selves to Come, Palgrave, Basingstoke.

Available as an ebook in the library, this monograph draws on a range of cutting-edge gender and sexuality theory and asks the timely question ‘Are we able to move beyond gender? If so, what are the implications in addressing pressing global social issues?’  We hope that this will spark lively discussion.

To express interest in being part of the group or for further information, please contact Dr Lucy Nicholas at lnicholas@swin.edu.au. If you wish to participate in the reading group please let me know preferred days.

– A joint initiative of the Global Justice Flagship – SISR and the School of Health, Art and Design. – Lucy Nicolas, Robyn Sampson and Sandy Gifford