Guernica por Pablo Picasso (1937)
The IAFOR International Conference
on Global Studies 2018
"Fearful Futures: Cultural Studies and the Question of Agency in the Twenty-First Century"
We have reached a moment in international history that is one of potential paradigm shift. It is a moment when a problematic, but at least blandly progressivist, pro-multiculturalist movement toward “cosmopolitanism” (as Kwame Anthony Appiah might use the term) is being threatened by a far more destructive and potentially genocidal ethno-nationalism, the ferocity of which is fuelled by economic disparity, religious intolerance and retrograde ideologies regarding gender, race and sexuality. The possible global futures we face are fearful, indeed.
In this context, cultural studies has a unique role to play in tracing the genealogy of the present moment and charting different paths forward. As never before, cultural studies is called to return to its activist roots, to diagnose the ideologies driving hatred and intolerance, and to posit different models of social engagement and organisation. Looking to the past, what do we learn about the challenges of today? How does culture replicate itself (or critically engage itself) in the classroom, in literature, in social media, in film, in the visual and theatrical arts, in the family, and among peer groups? How do we rise to the challenge of articulating a notion of human rights that also respects cultural difference? How do cultural representations of the environment abet or challenge the forces driving climate change? What are the roles and responsibilities of the individual activist as teacher, writer, social scientist and community member?
This international and interdisciplinary conference will bring together a range of academics, independent researchers, artists and activists to explore the challenges that we face in the twenty-first century. While we have every right to fear the future, we also have agency in creating that future. Can we commit to a cosmopolitanism that celebrates difference and that challenges social inequity? On our ability to answer to that question affirmatively likely hangs our very survival.
How can writers respond when the future looks fearful?
Featured Panel Presentation: Philip Ball, Gloria Montero and Professor Liz Byrski
As the writer Nancy Kress remarked, "Fiction is about stuff that’s screwed up". She’s probably right, in the sense that some of the best writing has arisen from historically turbulent times – whether its focus was on the past, present or the future. Turbulent times have tended to produce equally turbulent responses from writers, often obliging them to use the future as a metaphor for the present – think Orwell’s 1984 written in 1948 as a contemporary response to totalitarianism. How fearful did the future look back in 1948 to Orwell, and how fearful does it look to us now, in 2018?
The news that we are on the brink of apocalypse may indeed be fake, but there is undoubtedly a current sense of unease about the future, in sharp contrast to the post-conflict era of the 1960s and 1970s when everything seemed possible, we made love and not war, and technology appeared to be offering us infinite horizons.
Enter the writer, to try to make sense of it all, or to just reflect and even comfort us. Maybe in troubled times, more people look to both fiction and non-fiction as succour, as a way of testing out their own hypotheses. The success of Yuval Noah Harari’s recent Homo Deus would seem to be proof of this – offering us an individual interpretation of how a fearful future might look, but also of how it might be avoided. On a more modest scale, with our future allegedly so fearful, what can writers offer now?