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  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - IMAGINACTIVISM (Cultural production, social movements and virtuous spirals; Using cultural production to influence social transformation. An ethnographic case study of a transmedia and translocal experiment.)


Project ID: 661561
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - IMAGINACTIVISM (Cultural production, social movements and virtuous spirals; Using cultural production to influence social transformation. An ethnographic case study of a transmedia and translocal experiment.)

Reporting period: 2015-12-01 to 2017-11-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The current moment is marked not only by grand societal challenges but until the recent political upsets of the UK referendum on leaving the European Union, and the election of President Trummp in the USA there has been great concern about the lack of engagement of citizens in national politics. The decline of voter participation in the nation-states which are responsible for making and implementing policy innovations to deal with issues such as resource depletion, climate change and population growth has been a paramount concern of policy-makers worldwide, and is now joined by significant concerns over the quality of citizen engagement.

Meanwhile, in many locations around the world, individuals and communities are taking action to reshape their lives both to live more sustainably in terms of the planet’s finite resources and to align with alternative values to those of the dominant culture, developing distinctive infrastructures and modes of relating. This project explores the thesis that individuals and communities can be - and have been - moved to such actions by fictional or artistic cultural productions that offer alternative visions of the future. The concept ‘imaginactivism’ is being articulated to develop this thesis and to examine and illuminate the relationship of utopian longing to practical action in the world, as it is mediated through engagement with cultural production.

In this project I am conducting two empirical case study to develop and test the concept of ‘imaginactivism’ as a way of thinking through the influences fictional or artistic cultural productions exert on social and political activism, and vice versa. I am also pursuing research skills training in new media research and production, as well as videoethnography. This will enable me to meet the objectives of:

producing articles and a monograph about the transmedia phenomenon in which my two case studies intersect

articulating the methods to ground conceptual work on ‘imaginactivism’ through an empirical case study;

disseminating the methods to academic audiences pursuing research on cultural production and social activism;

disseminating a road map for linking cultural production and social and political action to cultural producers, activists and potential activist publics.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

I have conducted two empirical case studies using a combination of participant observation, interviewing and analysis of social media. I have been exploring the ways in which the proposed adaptation for the screen of an ecofeminist science fiction novel, and the production, publication and circulation of an edited collection of science fiction by social justice activists - respectively The Fifth Sacred Thing and Octavia's Brood - inspire their supporters and readers to engage in social activism. I have presented at conferences, given invited talks, and I written articles and book chapters on my preliminary finding and on my conceptualisation of imaginactivism.


June 28 - 30, 2016, Science Fiction Research Association Annual Conference (International), University of Liverpool, Paper Title: “Imaginactivism: SF and Social Justice Projects. Can We Practice Research Activism?” (N.B. Invited Keynote Talk)

August 31 - September 3, 2016, European Association for the Study of Science and Technology Biennial Conference:Science and Technology by Other Means – Exploring collectives, spaces and futures, Paper Title:“Earth Activist Training as Feminist, Multicultural, Antiracist Technoscience”

June 29 – July 1 2017, Science Fiction Research Association Annual Conference (International), “Unknown Pasts / Unseen Futures”, University of California at Riverside, Paper Title: “California Dreaming: Utopian and Dystopian Calls to Action in Parable of the Sower and The Fifth Sacred Thing”

Invited talks:

October 26, 2016m University of Oregon, Center for the Study of Women in Society, Noon Talk: “Imaginactivism: SF and Social Justice Projects”
December 15, 2016, Symposium on Ecofeminism: Creating Worldly Interference Patterns, University of Edinburgh: “Re-storying El Mundo Bueno: Earth Activist Training, social permaculture and liveable futures”
March 11, 2017, Sophia Sanctuary International Women’s Day Celebration, Eugene, Oregon:“Peace, Environmental Reparation, Redistribution of Wealth, Human Security”

Articles / chapter accepted for publication:

November 2017, Ada: A journal of gender, new media and technology,“Instantiating Imaginactivism: Le Guin’s The Dispossessed as Inspiration”
Forthcoming Autumn 2019,A/B: Auto/Biography Studies Special Issue: Engaging Donna Haraway: Lives In The Natureculture Web: “Bound in the Spiral Dance: Writing Lives in Feminist Community”
Forthcoming 2019, Systems and Knowledge: Scholarship, Ecology and Mind in Science Fiction,Essay collection edited by Chris Pak and Will Slocombe: “Imaginactivism: Science Fiction and Social Justice Projects”

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

"The political upsets of Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as President in the USA have added further societal challenges to the grand challenges or resource depletion, climate change and population growth which I identified in my original proposal. They have also led to an upsurge in activism in the UK and the USA, and to attempts to build connection across academic, activist and cultural and media sectors. In this context, Imaginactivism is proving to be a very fruitful concept and the links between fictional and artistic cultural production and activism are becoming evident in multiple initiatives around the world. The work of Oakland, California-based Center for Story-based Strategy – “a participatory approach that links movement building with an analysis of narrative power and places storytelling at the center of social change” and Netherlands-based Other Futures “a new multidisciplinary online and offline platform for thinkers and builders of other futures” are just two examples of networks deploying what I have termed Imaginactivism. These networks intersect with the networks around my nominated case studies. E.g. Walidah Imarisha, co-editor of Octavia’s Brood is teaching a masterclass on “Dreaming New Futures: Science Fiction and Social Change” at the Other Futures Festival in Amsterdam (2 – 4 February 2018). My planned monograph (provisional title: Imaginactivism: Utopian Imaginaries and Praxis in Turbulent Times) will draw on these further instantiations of imaginactivism to supplement the analyses of my primary case studies.

By expanding my investigation of imaginactivism into a second case study – Octavia’s Brood – I have been able to explore questions about the differences between using an existing work of cultural production to stimulate social justice activism and the creation of a work which centres the promotion of social justice activism from its conceptualisation. I have also been able to explore the difference in futures imagined and in activist strategies between movements which incorporate racial justice as one aspect of social and environmental justice and movements which centre racial justice. During my time in the USA following the use of social media for campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, and #NoDAPL revealed interesting intersections with the work of Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurisms and alternative understandings of the relative prioritization of key societal challenges.


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