CFP: Scientific Utopias in Soviet Union: Fiction, science and power (1917-1991) (Paris, 2016) (Deadline: November 30, 2015)

CFP: Scientific Utopias in Soviet Union: Fiction, science and power (1917-1991) (Paris, 2016)
Deadline: November 30, 2015

Call for papers
Scientific Utopias in Soviet Union
Fiction, science and power

International Conference
23-24 SEPTEMBER 2016

Organization: Grégory Dufaud, Ioulia Podoroga, Larissa Zakharova

Scientific committee: Anna Åberg (FMSH/CERCEC), Korine Amacher (Geneva University), Catherine Depretto (Univeristy Paris-IV), Leonid Heller (Lausanne University), Alexei Kojevnikov (University of British Columbia), Nikolai Krementsov (University of Toronto), Valéry Pozner (CNRS), Egle Rindzeviciute (SciencesPo-Paris), Alexandr Dmitriev (Higher School of Economics – Moscow)

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, history of science has made significant progress. One topic however was disregarded: scientific utopia, fascinating and intriguing, because situated on the border between literature and science. Nikolai Krementsov is one of the few historians to deal with this topic. In Revolutionary Experiments, on the basis of several literary works, he focuses on medicine in the 1920s, further extending the reflections exposed in his book on Aleksandr Bogdanov. Unsuccessful rival of Lenin, Bogdanov abandoned political life to devote himself to writing[1]. Through science fiction, he did not only expose his vision of socialism, but also theorized the role of medicine and blood transfusion in the transformation of the social world. As suggested by the example of Bogdanov, scientific utopia, as social utopia, offers an imaginary model for a new type of society and wishes to facilitate its realization.

This conference aims to understand how fiction, thanks to its heuristic function, managed to participate in the transformation of scientific activity and reconfigure science and power relation. First of all, we will focus on the relation between fiction and science, in order to explore how literature and film have taken over and readapted some of the concepts based on scientific discoveries and, conversely, how science used the imagery proposed by fiction to sustain its discourse, challenge its findings or launch the brand new experiments. This double movement is clearly mediated by power. This is why we will be attentive to the social command and the mechanisms of censorship at work.

Through this relation between fiction, science and power we also wish to explore the idea of progress and its meaning during this period. If Soviet authorities made of science mother of progress, the belief in the impending communism started fading in the sixties. To what extent have scientific utopias reflected this evolution? What kind of imagery did they offer to the public? Utopias are rooted in the reality of their time and reveal its concerns. Then, what are the concerns they convey? Have they developed a discourse on risk that scientists would then reappropriate? For what reasons?

This conference addresses all the disciplines in the humanities and social sciences (history, sociology, philosophy, literature studies, etc.). Every field of Soviet science, the best known as well as the most marginal, are to be examined. All works of fiction can be analyzed, as long as they fall within literature or cinema. Our focus is not one genre in particular (utopia, fantastic or science fiction), but a body of works of different status, whose common feature is the use and the reappropriation of scientific discoveries in order to imagine the future[2].

We invite contributions dealing with following questions:

1.    Scientific concepts and discoveries in fiction
–       variety of imagery proposed by scientific utopias;
–       discoveries and innovations at the heart of this imagery;
–       meanings given to the idea of progress;
–       fears and concerns expressed by scientific utopias.

2. Scientific utopias and science:
–       the role of fiction in scientific thinking and controversies;
–       the role of fiction in the reconfiguration of relations between scientific disciplines;
–       scientific ethics with regard to scientific utopias;
–       the use of scientific utopias in order to obtain recognition of a project by authorities or a scientific institution.

3. Scientific utopias tested by the society:
–       spreading of scientific utopias and its audience;
–       scientific utopias and popularization of knowledge and techniques;
–       scientific utopias and power, the role of censorship.

If you are interested in presenting a paper at this conference, please send a 300 word-long abstract and a short bio to the following e-mail address: by November 30th, 2015.

The working languages of the conference are French, English and Russian.

[1]. Nikolai Krementsov, Revolutionary Experiments: The Quest for Immortality in Bolshevik Science and Fiction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014 ; id., A Martian Stranded on Earth. Alexander Bogdanov, Blood Transfusions, and Proletarian Science, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2011.

[2]. On science fiction and utopia see Leonid Heller, De la science-fiction soviétique : par delà le dogme, un univers, Lausanne, Éditions l’Âge d’homme, 1979 ; Leonid Heller, Michel Niqueux, Histoire de l’utopie en Russie, Paris, PUF, 1995.