Each year George Mason University’s Culture Studies Student Organizing Committee puts together a graduate student conference. I am excited about this conference’s theme, Utopias. The work of academia is to critique the social conditions in play, but also move beyond that to imagine a way out or a more just system. This later half has been mostly abandoned (two recent exceptions— Spaces of Hope by David Harvey and Cyber-Marx (Free online) by Nick Dyer-Witheford) and for obvious reasons. By creating an alternative to this world you imagine what has been deemed unimaginable, a way out. Utopias draw criticism because they are not always grounded in the “real” or what we imagine as real. This makes them easy targets and creates a target on their work. The understated pass by without comment, while those who imagine are lambasted for attempting to hope. I do not mean to sound overtly sentimental, I just strongly believe that academic work is not complete without imagining the possibilities. If there are no possibilities and we are all doomed, then why are we writing all of these books?
With that being said, Utopian visions can be violent acts. They have been used to justify genocide and erase the potential they hope to achieve. They can limit possibilities through blind-faith. The work of examining Utopian Visions and their failures is important.
Here is the CFP for next year’s conference:
k(NO)w tomorrow: Contradictions of Imagining the Future
“Utopia,” according to Frederic Jameson, “has always been a political issue, an unusual destiny for a literary form.” Human history has had no shortage of fantasies of perfect worlds, or of dystopian visions that form their obverse. Even today, when the notion of “progress” is subject to fraught debate, utopian hopes and dystopian warnings can be found in discourses ranging from advertising to religion, film to cable news.
This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore the idea of utopia, as well as dystopia—the aesthetic, ethical, and political implications of these concepts. It will consider historical and contemporary utopian communities, as well as representations of utopia and dystopia in film, literature, television, and music. Papers should consider the relevance and efficacy of thinking utopias and dystopias within the context of academic research.
Possible topics include looking at utopias and dystopias in the following contexts:
• Historical Practices
• Non-Western/Subcultural/Marginal/Minority Groups
• Political & Media Rhetoric
• Environment and Ecology
• Cultural Representations (Film, Art, Television, Music, etc.)
• The Role of in Academic Work
Abstracts of 300 words and a current CV should be sent to Ariella Horwitz (ahorwitz AT gmu DOT edu) by 15 May 2010. Please include the title, presenter’s name, institutional affiliation, contact information, A/V requests, and any special needs required. Abstracts should be sent as .doc or .rtf file attachments.
2009 – Manufacturing Happiness
2008- Histories of Violence