Utopian Spaces

deadline for submissions: 
August 31, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
‘Utopian Spaces’ Graduate Conference, Simon Fraser University
contact email: 

Call for Papers: ‘Utopian Spaces’ Graduate Conference, Simon Fraser University Vancouver, BC November 23-25, 2018 Deadline for Submissions: August 31, 2018




Contours Journal and the Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University invite proposals on the theme of ‘Utopian Spaces.’ For this upcoming interdisciplinary graduate conference, we hope to reinvigorate conceptions of the often stigmatized category of utopia – the notion that things could be otherwise, the collective desire for a radical alternative – as they pertain to social space. We invite speakers to explore instances of utopian speculation and problem-solving and their significance in a wider historical context.

We can look to the past and the present for concrete applications of the utopian: from the Paris Commune of 1871 and Red Vienna, to ‘Global 1968,’ to the recent mass uprisings in Tahrir Square and Gezi Park; from the citizenship schools of the US civil rights movement, to the Black Panthers’ provision of social services and communal self-defence in Oakland, CA, to the Black Lives Matter movement, or the Jackson Plan in Jackson, MS. We can consider the current rise of indigenous-led activism: the Idle No More movement, artistic projects (such as REDress) about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, and resistance to the construction and expansion of pipelines, exemplified by the re-occupations of the Unist’ot’en camp, Camp Cloud, the Kwekwecnewtxw Watch House, and the Tiny House Warriors in BC. Meanwhile, utopian demands have surfaced in a variety of feminist struggles: the social media fury of #MeToo, or the boots on the ground, revolutionary feminist socialism in Rojava and of the ELZN in Chiapas.

What all these movements of resistance arguably have in common is a utopian contestation of social space, where alternative spaces and lines of flight are projected and constructed in response to systemic forms of injustice and oppression. We propose to think utopia in spatial terms, and space in utopian terms, allowing for the elucidation of transformative potentialities. Yet the utopian space or enclave is just as likely to veer into dystopia. Utopia and dystopia coexist, interact, and conflict, reflecting unmet needs and desires. We are therefore interested in the convergences and tensions between the utopian and dystopian, in terms of both existent and envisioned representations of such spaces.

We would like to frame utopian spaces in relation to the following clusters:

  1. Occupied Spaces: Historically, what unique forms of resistance have reclaimed space and provided pathways for praxis? What can we learn from the successes and failures of Occupy Wall Street and subsequent ‘Occupy’ incarnations such as Occupy ICE, or the ongoing blockades by France’s Zone to Defend (ZAD) communities? How is colonial occupation perpetuated and reinscribed, and through what forms are unceded territories and rights protected and defended? What is involved in the alliance of indigenous and environmental activism? How is utopian/dystopian space to be thought of in relation to boundaries and identities, inclusions/exclusions, nationalism, migration, and xenophobia?
  2. Living Spaces: How does utopia inform our delineation of living/lived spaces, from the immediate space of the body and the home, to ideas around what constitutes public and communal space? In places where real estate markets, developers and the tech industry proliferate, what might a renewed sense of the commons look like? How does the climate crisis and the age of the Anthropocene or Capitalocene shape these responses? In light of ‘demovictions’ and ‘renovictions’ in BC, or the tragedy of Grenfell tower in London, what might a utopian response to housing look like? What possibilities are presented in the radical politics of community in squatters’ movements like Kommune 1 in West Berlin or the Woodsquat in Vancouver?
  3. Imaginative and Virtual Spaces: What kind of utopian spaces do art and culture offer? How have or how might they prefigure and enrich social movements? What is opened up in the configuration of alternative lifeworlds in radical speculative fiction? What is the significance of the popularity of dystopian narratives? What is the role of cyberspace and the digital in the utopian/dystopian imaginary? In light of the scandals surrounding election hacking in the 2016 US election and the Brexit referendum, or given the environmental consequences of bitcoin mining in China, how are we to conceptualize the relationship between the virtual and the real? How might different kinds of media map new forms of utopian space?

Submissions are open to graduate students at all levels. Please send proposals to the Graduate Conference Committee at contours@sfu.ca by August 31.

Proposals should include:

  • An abstract of no more than 300 words for a 20-minute presentation
  • Your name and details for your preferred mode of contact (postal address, email, phone number, or literary code)
  • A brief biography of no more than 250 words
  • Any institutional or organizational affiliation (optional)
  • Any technical (audio/visual) requirements for your presentation

Proposals may be individual, or alternatively offered as a panel. Please note that a selected number of papers from the conference will be published in a special issue of Contours Journal.