Calls for papers for conferences taking place in December 2023

As If, But Differently: Meditations on the Realisms of Our Times
St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia (Bulgaria), 1-2 December 2023
Deadline for submissions: 1 May 2023

A forum dedicated to the 95th anniversary of the  Department of English and American Studies & the 135th anniversary of St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia 

An event organized by
Dr. Alexandra Glavanakova
Dr. Alexander Popov
Dr. Rayna Rossenova

The anthropologist Andrea Ballestero writes in A Future History of Water – an ethnography of  various efforts to make access to water a human right – that the “practice of making a difference  without resorting to radical difference or the Otherwise is a project that entails committing to  the world as it is, but differently” (Ballestero 2019). This equates to giving up the dream of  “stepping outside of what is” and, instead, engaging subversively with the as is, with the  material-semiotic specificities that structure the world and delineate potentialities for change.  

Taking inspiration from Donna Haraway’s creative wordplay on the abbreviation sf – Science  Fiction, Speculative Fabulations, String Figures, So Far – we might extend her series with  another playful member: aS iF (Haraway 2016). Speculative fictions imagine an as-if framework  within which one can begin to deconstruct the current socio-political imaginary and to  reconstruct new ones, new ways of being. A convergence of these two methods – of as-is and as if – might therefore be captured by the synthetic phrase “as if, but differently”: imagining a  fictional Otherwise that is actually an instrument for uncovering hidden knots of tension in the  real world and for coming up with stories that knot differently in the material-semiotic here and-now, to borrow once more from Haraway’s work.  

Science fiction is one the realisms of our times, according to SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson  (Robinson and Feder 2018), and perhaps the contemporary situation of overdetermined crises  calls for multiple new realisms: to be able to represent reality as if the world actually is in danger  of coming to an end; as if nonhumans are indeed sentient and might possess their own narrative  perspective, and even voice; as if monstrosity is really rooted in history and not in metaphysics; as if another world is possible even if we cannot start from scratch on a utopian island. These  new realisms must come to terms with what Amitav Ghosh has called “the great derangement”  – humanity’s collective inability to come to terms with large-scale changes in climate and the  biosphere, or rather the inability of dominant cultural forms to narrativize our being in a sane  way that bolsters our chances for survival and for thriving in a complexly interconnected global  world (Ghosh 2018).  

We invite scholars and students to meditate together on the capacity of literary and cultural  artefacts to provide new ways of thinking realistically about our changing world. This might  mean science fiction becoming almost indistinguishable from the imminent reality of a climate changed Earth, as in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future (2020), or the  mechanics of the bourgeois realist novel being exapted to tell a fundamentally different story – that of forests, as in Richard Powers’ The Overstory (2018); it might mean retooling epic fantasy  to tell stories of oppression and rebellion, as in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series (2015–7), or  retooling horror – for the purposes of destabilizing the figure-ground matrix that typically  characterizes humanity’s perceived relation to the environment, as in Jeff Vandermeer’s  Annihilation (2014). The Gothic, magical realism, postmodernism, mythological fiction – any as if fictional framework can in our present times be thought of as capable of going beyond mere  representation, of becoming an apparatus for grasping the as-it-is reality of the world in  surprising and productive ways (Wark 2016).  

Under an “as if, but differently” approach, the study of the genealogy of genres and forms  becomes invested with a renewed sense of urgency. Such a study might focus on the various  discursive forces that shape fiction and their unceasing entwining; and this in turn might entail  a literary sociology of the contact between these discursive practices. The “contact zones” (Pratt  1991) where these practices meet are inevitably structured by relations of power, but they also  lead to novel and unexpected assemblages (Haraway 2008). Such contact zones in literary and  cultural products are potentially present at any event of hybridization and of attempting to  imagine differently at the site where discursive practices and communities meet anew: in  speculative nonfiction and science fiction; in indigenous futurisms such as Afrofuturism; in  fanfiction and hypertext fiction, and surely in fiction co-written with large language models like  GPT-3 and ChatGPT that subvert the formal and aesthetic foundations of the literary text.  Modeling as-if genres and modes by basing one’s analysis in the history of contact zones makes  theory itself more interesting and useful: such theory is justified in its aspirations to study not  only literary and cultural forms, but also the forces that produce them and that they in turn  mobilize to produce changes in the world. In short, thinking “as if, but differently” invites us to  meditate on the totality of our world and its future histories, of which stories are an integral  part. 

Research topics (may include but are not limited to): 

  • science fiction and other speculative fictions as a “hybrid genres,” their genealogies,  current and potential uses; 
  • reappropriation and/or exaptation of established literary forms; 
  • enhanced literature, digital-born literature; 
  • climate fiction and environmental fiction; 
  • utopian literature; 
  • “realistic” representations of nonhumans and of human enhancement; • stories about/by artificial intelligence; 
  • indigenous futurisms; 
  • feminist speculative fiction; 
  • queer speculative fiction; 
  • interactive fiction; 
  • speculative nonfiction. 

Submission types: papers (15 minutes), panels (1 hour and 15 minutes), artistic installations,  performances, and readings of original work on the event’s theme. |
Deadline for submissions: 1 May 2023 
Confirmation of acceptance: 30 June 2023 

Submissions must include

  1. First name and family name of the presenter 
  2. Institutional affiliation of the presenter 
  3. Presenter’s email address 
  4. The title of the proposed paper/panel/performance/reading 
  5. A 350 words’ abstract of the proposal 
  6. A 200 words’ biographical note of the presenter 
  7. Keywords 

Proposals to be submitted to: 

The official language of the conference is English. 

The event will be held in person only. 

Conference fees

Regular fee: 40 EURO
Reduced fee (doctoral students): 20 EURO 
Students (at the BA or MA level): free 


(Posted 25 February 2023)