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Exospheres: Politics, Aesthetics, and Narratives of Contemporary Outer Space

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Organizer: Jessica Copley

Co-Organizer: Jorge Cuellar

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While recourse to outer space as a site for utopian thinking has long been a familiar feature of speculative genres, the recent resurgence of interest in Russian Cosmism, enduring vitality of Afrofuturism, and the emergence of Latinx, Indigenous, Arab, Sino and other futurisms, seems to indicate a new direction in cultural production and narrative projection. Planetary finitude and post-apocalyptic imaginaries have been the central object of science fiction, from today’s “cli-fi,” to past and present futurist approaches that grapple with the possibilities of what is to come. And yet, although outer space persists as a fecund site for imagining alternative futures and historical alternatives, there is an increasing tendency to situate such futures in the aftermath of political failure or endless crisis. As such, this panel interrogates how present material conditions are inflecting shifts in outer space aesthetics - in thinking the otherworldly and the extraterrestrial - whilst inviting participants to consider how these representational and generic shifts are shaping earthly politics. In the face of “space wars,” climate catastrophe, the heightened militarization of nation-state borders, and other apocalyptic scenarios, how are the politics, aesthetics, and imaginaries of outer space being transformed, contested, and reworked?

Topics for consideration include: 

How has the intensification of imperialist, colonialist, militarist and capitalist expansion into outer space impacted contemporary forms of artistic representation and their political imaginaries?
How has the genre of science fiction and “outer space” served as a prism to understand social difference?
How does outer space, or the planetary, and the scaling of narratives to this level, enable us to think about liminality, borders, “exospheres,” and the spaces “in-between” of society and culture?
How does thinking the planetary, the interplanetary and the exoplanetary reconfigure our understanding of present material and inter-species conditions?
What shifts in the politics and aesthetics of utopia and dystopia are emerging in response to the demands of our current historical conjuncture?

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