Birkbeck, University of London
1 September 2018
Above all, we need to understand utopia as a method rather than a goal … always suspended between the present and the future, always under revision, at the meeting point of the darkness of the lived moment and the flickering light of a better world, for the moment accessible only through an act of imagination.
- Ruth Levitas, Utopia as Method (2013)
Another world is possible.
- The activists of the World Social Forum
Professor Lynne Segal (Birkbeck, University of London)
Professor Davina Cooper (King's College London)
Call for Papers
One of the fundamental questions around which any mode of political thought must necessarily be structured is: “How should I act?”. We wish to use this conference to suggest “in order to make the world a better place” as an adjunct to this question; one which is both evoked and evaded by contemporary political thought. Through this suggestion we aim to relocate utopia from its popularly understood position as an imagined, perfect space which acts as an ultimate goal of political action and instead to situate it within this foundational question. We understand the relationship between act and utopianism not as that between blueprint and result or praxis and theory, but rather as an inextricable, many-directional connection where action is always coloured by its own utopian potential, while utopianism is unthinkable outside of the actions which create it.
To define activism as utopianism in this manner is a deliberate challenge to the overriding feeling of (dystopian) pessimism commonly engendered by this particular moment in global history. Rising income inequality; increasing displacement, insecurity, and precariousness for vast global populations; the lived effects of anthropogenic climate change; and widespread resurgences of populism, white supremacy, and fascism are among the most visible examples of a contemporary period defined by ongoing crisis. In this historical moment it is easy to exclude utopianism from the conversation around radical action as a naive, unjustifiably optimistic distraction. However, as activist organisations working tirelessly around the world recognise, to demand a better, more utopian world is, in such circumstances, neither distraction or escape, but instead forms a moral and political imperative. By naming this event Utopian Acts we invite an interrogation of this understanding of utopianism as produced by, and included within, radical action of various kinds.
Utopian Acts invites proposals for papers, performances, and media works (maximum 20 minutes); and workshops (maximum 60 minutes); which reflect upon, or themselves are, acts of positive political, social, and cultural change in the contemporary moment, whether or not these acts are understood as explicitly utopian. Discussions of the dangers, pitfalls or misappropriations of utopianism are also encouraged. While we have released a Call for Papers in academic channels, Utopian Acts is not solely an academic conference, and we are thus only interested in work which endeavours to reach outside of the academy, both in terms of clarity of delivery and in its interrogation of potential bonds of solidarity between activist, artistic, and academic communities. We particularly seek proposals by people who are disadvantaged or under-represented in their communities or have experienced oppression of any kind. We believe that a radically intersectional utopianism is the only valid form of utopianism.
Specific topics which we are interested in learning about, and which may help provide a starting point for your own proposal, include:
- Utopian activism - Utopian forms of resistance, organisation, and struggle; the relationship of utopianism and activism throughout history.
- Utopianism and the academy - Can (and should) academic institutions operate using forms of utopian thinking, and what do they look like when they do? In the UK, has UCU’s recent industrial action shed further light on this question?
- Contemporary (anti-)utopianism - Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL, #MeToo, Trump, Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Brexit, the Syrian refugee crisis, and other events which have brought utopian and anti-utopian discourses into the mainstream.
- Utopian spatialities - Utopian architectures and infrastructures; urban utopianism and its relationship with urban activism and forms of radical art from street lit/urban fiction to the dérive.
- Utopian temporalities - Must utopia be in the future? Are there non-linear ways of understanding time which allow us to locate utopia in the present/past without compromising on the current need for radical action?
- Utopian art - The changing form of utopia across texts, images and art objects. How artistic creation relates to the creation of change. The role of the artist/activist.
- Utopian bodies - How do bodies change and how are they used in utopian settings? Are utopian bodies able to claim their presence in performances of activism?
Proposal guidelines and deadline
The deadline for proposals is 5pm GMT on Friday the 29th of June 2018.
Proposals should be sent by email (as a PDF, Word document, or in the body of the email) to firstname.lastname@example.org and should be around 250 words in length. If your proposal is for an academic paper, unless it is very clear from the abstract, please specify the way in which your paper addresses the intersections or connections between academic and activist or creative work.
Costs and grants
There will be no cost to attend or present at Utopian Acts. Refreshments will be provided.
We are delighted to offer a number of small grants (£80-£120) to people who would have difficulty presenting at Utopian Acts, or performing the work upon which their presentations are based, without material assistance. We particularly welcome applications for these from people of colour; people from Indigenous backgrounds; women and those whose gender identities do not conform to hegemonic gendered norms; people from poor and working class backgrounds; and disabled people. To apply for a grant, please include a brief statement (maximum 200 words) about any projects (academic, artistic, activist, literary, etc.) in which you are or have been engaged along with your proposal.
If you have any questions or comments about any aspect of this call for papers or the proposed event, please email email@example.com.