The greatest challenges of our time – from climate crisis, global migrations, income inequality to the recent COVID-19 pandemic – can be regarded as spatial issues. The geographies of globalization – the settlements, landscapes, infrastructures, networks, supply chains, markets, and factories which make up our world – are produced unevenly in a fashion which entrenches poverty and exacerbates planetary pollution (Harvey 2000). As a result of geopolitical interventions, a great number of people have been deprived of their rights to both public and private spaces, whereas increased mobility in the developed world has undermined the established concepts of dwelling and spatial rootedness.
Addressing the overlapping issues of social oppression and spatial injustice (Soja 2010) – such as exploitation of natural resources, unsustainable urbanisation, aggressive agriculture – demands a radical transformation of local, national and global spaces. Energy transitions, investments in public infrastructures and services, provisioning of safe and affordable housing, and restoration of green and blue spaces are just some of the changes we need to see. Emergency governmental responses to COVID-19 initiated rapid and radical societal changes that would have previously been unimaginable to many.
Taking the pandemic response as one of the examples of a possible paradigm shift in terms of the kind of political action that can be imagined, this workshop emphasises the vital role of speculative fiction, film and visual art in shaping the physical world. Amid the global pandemic, and at the doorstep of climate breakdown, how can imaginative practices address and rectify spatial injustice?
Speculative literature and art – understood broadly here as a category encompassing science fiction, fantasy, eco-fiction, utopia and dystopia – have long been concerned with imagining space differently. In depicting future or alternative worlds, artists can explore the spatial dynamics of oppression, exploitation and despoliation under today’s global capitalism. Yet, is it possible to go from cultural representation to societal transformation? Can our “reflection upon the virtual guide our understanding of the real (or actual)”, as Henri Lefebvre suggested in his seminal work The Production of Space (1974)? How can we see the spaces of speculative art as potential shapers of healthier and fairer environments? Conversely, how do these artworks deny visions and narratives which erase the spatial abuses of our past, present and future?
- Harvey, David, Spaces of Hope, Edinburgh, University Press, 2000.
- Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space, Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Blackwell Publishing, 2008.
- Soja, Edward, Seeking Spatial Justice, University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
This workshop invites papers from the fields of science fiction, utopian studies, ecocriticism, cultural geography, environmental humanities, environmental history, and any other related, new or interdisciplinary fields. Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Spatial justice
- Gender and space
- Eco-fiction and nature writing
- Utopian and dystopian narratives
- Commodification and enclosures
- Architecture and the built environment
- Spatial dichotomies: urban-rural, centre- periphery, North-South, East-West
- Place-making, dwelling, belonging, and identity
- Corporeality and the human body in/as space
- Environmental destruction, pollution and erasure
- Borders and migration
- Legacies of colonialism
Panels of 3-4 presentations will be followed by 30-45 minute discussions where all participants are invited to join.
The workshop will also feature an interview with philosopher Srećko Horvat and a keynote lecture by Professor Jennifer Wenzel.
Srećko Horvat is Croatian philosopher, author, and political activist. He is a co-founder along with Yanis Varoufakis of the pan-European political movement for democracy DiEM25. He has authored books in both English and Croatian, including the most recent After the Apocalypse, Poetry from the Future, The Radicality of Love and What does Europe want? (co-authored with Slavoj Žižek).
Jennifer Wenzel is Professor of Comparative Literature and of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her books include Bulletproof: Afterlives of Anticolonial Prophecy in South Africa and Beyond and The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature.