An Ectopian Toolkit

An awesome-looking conference that took place at Penn in mid-April:

Tool making is a signature trait of the human species. What tools will we make, and require, in the age of the human, the anthropocene: the proposed name for the present geological epoch when humans are the most potent force shaping earth’s systems? Global warming and other anthropocene challenges, including the ongoing sixth mass extinction event, often lead to apocalyptic visions, or apathy….

Amidst these dystopian scenarios prompted by the anthropocene, this conference aims to recall the role of utopian narratives in the environmental imaginary and in environmental thought, including the environmental sciences. Looking toward the future, we ask how utopian scenarios might prompt the kinds of integrated knowledge production Anthropocene entanglements require. Might a utopian turn help us navigate warmer, rising waters? Can it help build refuge? Can the utopian imaginary help us design tools, both conceptual and material, to make worlds that are simultaneously less carbon-intensive, more equitable, more mutually entangled, and available for visions of other possible futures? Can the utopian imaginary help to conceptualize environmental problems so that their solutions are participatory? Collaborative? Multi-lingual? Open-ended? Hopeful?

We are interested in shedding light on the past and futures of utopian thought not as an escape from the urgency and violence of the Anthropocene, but as a productive response. Utopian explorations, in historian of science Donna Haraway’s formulation, open the possibility “for weaving something other than a shroud for the day after the apocalypse that so prophetically ends salvation history.” Literary critic Fredric Jameson has framed the frailties of speculative and science fiction as important sites for the elaboration of future-oriented thought. Despite the “passing of mass utopia in east and west” after the fall of the Berlin Wall, diagnosed by intellectual historian Susan Buck-Morss, the last ten years have seen an effervescence of projects across the arts and sciences laced with utopian longing. If, as David Pepper has argued, utopian desires lie behind every form of environmental action, including environmental knowledge production, they are rarely constructed consciously and creatively. How might we do so?