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Student Conference: "Exploring Alterity in Fantasy and Science Fiction"

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  • Conference
Wann 19.10.2018 00:00 bis
20.10.2018 00:00
Wo English Department
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Fantastic Beasts, Monstrous Cyborgs, Aliens and Other Spectres: Exploring Alterity in Fantasy and Science Fiction
 

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Identity formation operates through processes of exclusion by defining the self against an other. As Sencindiver et al. argue: “Otherness has been inseparable from human identity and affairs from time immemorial – the birth of subjectivity ineluctably implicates the birth of its concomitant and allegedly dark twin”. Alterity is a concept of ongoing relevance and describes “the quality of strangeness inherent in the Other”. The relationship between Self and Other is based on hierarchical power structures that stem from an essentialist mindset and serve as justifications of exclusionary practices such as imperialism, sexism and anthropocentrism. With the emergence of postmodern theory in the 1960s, the validity of these hierarchies has been continually called into question. Especially the deconstruction of the divide between high and popular culture led to a pluralization of perspectives, giving a voice to those who had formerly been excluded and silenced.

Critical theorists such as John Storey have described popular culture itself as an Other that is always defined against any other definitions of “culture” and “popular”. It follows that popular culture constitutes a hegemonic site of struggle and thus provides productive ground on which to contrast different discourses surrounding alterity, which can in turn confirm or subvert them. Popular culture is not a mere reflection of current cultural discourses but takes an active role, influencing the various ways in which we perceive and respond to Otherness.

We are currently witnessing a proliferation of the genres of science fiction and fantasy, particularly in media such as film or television (consider for example the popularity of films and series such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Game of Thrones, the Star Wars sequels, recent Star Trek reboots and prequels, and many more). The study of fantasy and science fiction is especially rewarding in the context of analyzing representations of alterity. Both genres construct elaborate alternative worlds in which encounters between human characters and sentient nonhuman Others call into question the nature of the human and, with it, the boundaries between Self and Other. The thought experiments that characterize fantasy and science fiction estrange our known reality, which promotes an active examination of our world. They throw into relief what we consider as Other and provide new models for encountering alterity outside of fiction in the ‘real’ world.

This conference aims to address the representation of alterity in fantasy and science fiction, its impact on cultural practices and its subversive potential. A main focus is the role of form, medium and (sub)genre in negotiations of alterity.

 

 

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