Political Imagination: Materiality, Politics and Pedagogy

International conference in Själö Island in the Turku Archipelago, Finland

10-12 June 2022

Keynote speakers:

Rhiannon Firth, University College London

Eeva Luhtakallio, University of Helsinki

This conference addresses political imagination and its material, political and pedagogical dimensions. It explores the manifestations of political imagination and utopian thought, including the ways in which political alternatives are imagined, performed and lived out today in a host of places and spaces. We approach political imagination as a driver of social change and a practice of transformative politics and social critique. Political imagination is a generative force that is inherently intersubjective, affective, material and social. It can animate and mobilise diverse political projects, agents and effects. By envisaging alternatives to the existing social order, political imagination can enable social dreaming and destabilise conventional ways of thinking that tend to restrict us to a narrow repertoire of political possibilities. Material arrangements, such as architecture, technologies and material objects, shape the ways in which we can imagine and make alternative futures happen. Political imagination is also a skill that needs to be taught, stimulated and cultivated, highlighting the centrality of pedagogy in the practice of imagination.

The unsustainability of our current social formation has become glaringly clear, not least by the pressing climate emergency, and there is an acute need to envisage alternative ways of organising our common life. Our current conjuncture is often characterised as post-political, anti-utopian and thoroughly dominated by forces of neoliberalism that make it difficult to articulate alternatives and organise resistance. This interpretation, however, risks obscuring much of the subversion that takes place in diverse nooks and crannies of society. Resistance, contestation and struggle are not only brewing and bubbling under the post-political lid, but also increasingly rolling into the streets and squares, gardens and kitchens, art galleries and theatres, and workplaces and media. In lieu of or in parallel with political disenchantment, we are witnessing an upsurge in acts and gestures that challenge the capitalist factory settings of economic growth, waged work, limitless consumption, and persistent gendered, classed and racialised forms of oppression and exploitation, and envisage and prefigure post-capitalist futures.

The conference sets out to map and advance our understanding of these diverse acts and gestures of transformative politics, along with the complexities and ambiguities they involve. It seeks to facilitate discussion about conceptual, methodological and empirical aspects of political imagination and utopian thought as a vital part of transformative politics and social change, and strengthen our collective capacity to imagine better futures. It invites participants to explore, debate and articulate visions, ideals and struggles for alternative social formations.

The conference addresses the following questions:

  • Where and how is political imagination practiced? What kinds of political alternatives are articulated, enacted and lived out in different contexts?
  • How does artistic practice contribute to envisaging alternative social formations?
  • How are power and imagination entangled with one another?
  • How can we theorise political imagination and prevent it from becoming instrumentalised?
  • How do historical processes and legacies shape the practices of political imagination?
  • How do different spaces encourage, block, animate or constrain imagination and utopian energies?
  • How do technologies and material arrangements constrain and facilitate practices of imagination?
  • How can our capacity to imagine alternative social formations be trained and stimulated?
  • How do various intersecting inequalities of class, gender, race, sexuality and age affect the ways in which people imagine and act towards social change?
  • How can we approach political imagination methodologically?

We welcome theoretical, methodological, empirical and arts-based presentations. The themes addressed may relate to but need not be limited to the following:

  • everyday utopias
  • social movements
  • affect and embodiment
  • materiality, temporality and spatiality
  • gender, class, race and sexuality
  • feminist utopianism
  • labour and social reproduction
  • pedagogy
  • art and activism
  • prefigurative and post-capitalist politics
  • methodological imagination

Please email abstracts of 250 words, together with a max. 150-word biographical note, including name, institutional affiliation and position, phone number and postal and email addresses, to: polimaconference@gmail.com

Abstract deadline: 15 March, 2022. Participants will receive notifications of acceptance by 30 March 2022.

The number of participants will be limited to 50.

Conference fee: 300 EUR (200 EUR for PhD students), includes accommodation, breakfast, lunches, dinners and refreshments for the duration of the conference.

For further information, please contact the organizing committee: polimaconference@gmail.com

The workshop is organized by the research project “Political Imagination and Alternative Futures (POLIMA)”, https://polima.fi/

The organizing committee: Suvi Salmenniemi, Inna Perheentupa, Pilvi Porkola, Salome Tuomaala-Özdemir and Hanna Ylöstalo.

Rhiannon Firth is a Lecturer in Sociology at IOE: University College London’s Faculty of Education and Society. Her research is at the intersection of Sociology, Education and Politics, with a focus on the pedagogical and prefigurative practices of social and ecological movements. She has conducted funded research with self-managed sustainable communities including co-operatives and eco-villages; with grassroots disaster relief movements including Occupy Sandy and COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK; and with alternative organizations using automation in experimental and artisanal ways (including a co-operative and a hackspace). She has also conducted historical and theoretical research on feminist consciousness-raising, utopian literature and communities, critical pedagogy and critical cartography. She is the author of three books: Utopian Politics (Routledge, 2012); Coronavirus, Class and Mutual Aid in the UK (Palgrave, 2020); and Disaster Anarchy: Mutual Aid and Radical Action (Pluto, forthcoming 2022).

Eeva Luhtakallio is Professor of Sociology at the University of Helsinki. Her work focuses on democracy and citizenship as mundane practices, including recent studies on visual forms of politics and activism, young people’s political engagements, and political marginalisation. Luhtakallio leads the Centre for Sociology of Democracy (csd.fi) and therein the projects ”Imagining Democracy: Young Europeans becoming citizens by visual participation”, “Politicizing environmental emergency in Russia and Finland” and ”Democracy makers”. She is the author of Practicing Democracy: Local Activism and Politics in France and Finland (Palgrave, 2012) and Demokratia suomalaisessa lähiössä (together with Maria Mustranta, Into-kustannus, 2017).

Health and safety of our conference guests is important for us. The conference will be held in accordance with current guidelines on COVID-19 by the Finnish government. We will keep you posted on these guidelines and travel instructions.