The sea – like the concept of utopia itself – does not feature much in our current social theories, let alone our contemporary political rhetoric or social imagination. If anything, the sea seems lately to assume a villainously protagonist role in many of our present-day dystopic realities: harrowing images of the liquid refugee cemetery of the Mediterranean, depressing statistics of declining aquatic life, floating waste and toxic maritime pollution, or the impending threat of rising sea levels dominate our news from neighboring seascapes. In this regard, the sea has now become the reflecting interface of multiple dystopias-in-the-making, whether as murderous border regimes or impending ecological disasters (oil spills in Atlantic; plastic islands in the Pacific) or as sites for world-threatening naval stand-offs (South China Sea).
Artists and activists, by contrast, have long since continued to embrace the sea as an important field of ‘eutopian’ reflection, emancipation and awareness; indeed much activism has as of late taken place in the sea in order to challenge various forms of enclosure and siege imposed by states and their armies (Gaza Ships; Refugees Welcome.) Meditating upon these themes together, we also hope to explore the typically fraught if not ambiguous character of utopianism, more specifically, the interplay between utopia and dystopia: either as dualistic if not antagonistic visions of order and disorder, creation and chaos, or futuristic revolutions and apocalyptic endings. Our aim for Utopias At Sea – Refuge, Resistance, Research therefore is to consider both how practices and theories of utopia at sea were and remain fundamental to our understandings of our collective pasts, presents and futures, and how they might now guide the imagination and realization of politics as and in action in our ever increasingly connected or global liquid life.
The conference is organized by the Floating Laboratory of Action and Theory At Sea, a concept lab developed by Nikolas Kosmatopoulos (American University of Beirut) and Marwa Elshakry, Co-Leader of the Global Histories of Science cluster.