CfP: Alternative Realities: Utopian Thought in Times of Political Rupture

Call for papers, deadline: 21 August 2017


The Wende Museum, Culver City, and the Max Kade Institute at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. April 16 & 17, 2018

Modern history has been marked by periodic ruptures, radical changes brought on by wars, revolutionary upheaval, or sudden political shifts that shattered existing social and political structures and belief systems. No country has experienced this more profoundly than Germany, which has witnessed five regimes across the past 100 years and experienced both the heights of national euphoria and the depths of physical and moral defeat and destruction in the twentieth century. During times of fundamental change, cultural ideas and expressions pave the way for the imagination of a new order. This conference focuses on the key role of utopian visions, both artistic and intellectual, that changed the world from the twentieth century to the present day.

Major turning points, such as the revolutionary fervor during and following the First World War, the emergence and rise of fascist and national socialist regimes, the reordering of the world after the Second World War, the revolutionary spirit of 1968 worldwide, and the end of the Cold War—as symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union—were inspired by, and provoked, periods of profound cultural and political self-examination. These moments of fundamental reflection were often accompanied by fierce debates about historical lineages and legacies. Indeed, utopian movements alternately asserted a complete break from the past or claimed to represent the fulfilment of historical destinies.

The recent growth and political success of populist right-wing forces all over the world and the apparent realignment of the political order suggest that we might be entering another period of profound political and historical rupture today. Thus, the organizers find that this is an appropriate moment for historicizing and problematizing the idea of ruptures and investigating a century of political and artistic responses to it.

While the German experience of these twentieth-century events stands at the center of our inquiry, we wish to situate Germany within a European-wide and global framework and we encourage paper proposals on any part of the world as long as they engage with these ideas.
Submission Deadline: August 21, 2017. Paper proposals should include Title, Abstract (approximately 250 words) and a Short CV and should be emailed as a single pdf to Paul Lerner,, and Joes Segal,

Papers should be approximately 20 minutes long and will be organized into 8 panels over the two conference days.

- Hunter Bivens (UCSC)
- Paul Lerner (USC)
- Amanda Roth (The Wende Museum)
- Joes Segal (The Wende Museum)
- Annette Vowinckel (ZZF)

Conference funding: Please note that we are pursuing funding from multiple organizations and foundations. While we hope to be able to subsidize conference travel and accommodations, we encourage potential participants to investigate other means of funding and to draw on their local funding sources.


We anticipate the following four thematic sections and we would encourage conference applicants to keep this in mind when proposing papers:

1. Utopian concepts and political identities: In what ways did utopian concepts influence the construction - or contestation - of political ideas? What alternative realities did they envision? What aspects of social, political, cultural life were addressed by these utopian ideas? In what form or medium were they presented? Which utopian visions had the power to actually help shape political realities?

2. Utopian ideas, traditions, and contingency: How did artists, writers, composers, filmmakers, intellectuals and visionary politicians create political meaning by relating to existing cultural traditions? How did they adept, appropriate or change these traditions? How did they imbed their proposals in a broader historical narrative? What was the impact of local traditions and circumstances on the creation of visionary ideas? In how far are grand visions a product of their place and time?

3. The utopian century in comparative perspective: Are there overarching tendencies in the ways artists, writers, composers, filmmakers, intellectuals and visionary politicians envisioned alternative realities throughout the history of the twentieth-century? How did 20th-century utopias differ from utopian visions and practices of the 19th century and earlier? Is the twentieth century a post-utopian era?

4. Utopia present and future: Is utopian thinking still relevant today? How can it escape the pitfalls of state repression? Does utopian thinking after “the end of history” still offer viable political alternatives? What is the role of art and culture in creating these alternatives? What role do utopian projections play in the success of or resistance against right-wing populism in our present day?

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