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  • The Knock at the Door: Utopian Dreams for Post-Covid Times
  • Pedro Mora-Ramírez, María Amo-Hernández, and Paula García-Rodríguez
Answering the Knock at the Door, Welcoming Utopian Futures, The Knock at the Door: Utopian Dreams for Post-Covid Times, May 21–24, 2023, University of Huelva, Spain, and University of Calgary, Canada

The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered new adversities and vulnerabilities, prompting reflection on the economic, social, and political paradigms that endanger human and nonhuman lives. For many, it was anxiety and uncertainty that “knock[ed] at the door”; for others, however, those same feelings of unease prompted one of hopefulness: reflecting on the possibilities for resilience and regeneration in the process of changing our vision of the world.1 The Knock at the Door conference brought contemporary utopianism to the forefront of thinking about how to respond to global crises while remaining attentive to other adversities of daily life. Scholars and artists answered the knock in an attempt to examine paths toward utopia, and to take advantage of the regenerative and resilient potential of the present.

The conference was the culmination of author/activist Larissa Lai’s fellowship period at the University of Huelva. The 2022–23 María Zambrano Fellowship for the academic year2 allowed Lai to complete the project “Utopian Dreams for Post-Covid Times,” carried out in collaboration with the Huelva research group led by Professor Pilar Cuder-Domínguez, who hosted a number of online and in-person seminars on speculative fiction with Lai. The Knock at the Door conference, marking the end of Lai’s fellowship, created yet another space for scholars, artists, and critics to discuss the potential of utopian narratives. Lai asks: “What does our cultural moment require, and how can we get where we need to go from where we are? How can literature, especially speculative fiction literature, help us get from here to there?”3 [End Page 641] The intention of the conference was to encourage others to continue Lai’s work on how to imagine futures where human and posthuman beings need to remain vigilant to adversities. Utopian scholars, among others, might find the complications of “getting there from here” closely related to Lai’s conception of “insurgent utopias,” or “emergent insurgency.” They could find Lai’s concept of “insurgent utopianism” interesting as it lays the foundations of futurity in terms of crisis responses.

The aim of the conference was to explore the imagination of better futures through utopian thinking and practice. In addition, it focused on “the knock at the door,” which is “a moment of contingent arrival . . . open to cooptation, destruction, bastardization, incorporation, death, or defusal.” Yet, it presents “the powerful possibility of critique—narratively or discursively, in its very materiality.”4 One way of doing this might be to look back at the past century of utopianism and ask who or what has been missing. The conference took up Lai’s idea of insurgent utopianism as a method of paving a path toward a multitude of dreams and actions, all shaped by the unique circumstances of one’s positionality.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for utopian thinking has become more pressing than ever. New horizons of hope must be created in the face of emerging anxieties. In a world where anthropocentrism is showing signs of its deadly potential, conference participants reflected on the relevance of the utopian imagination to political resistance and resilience building.

Utopian Visions: Contesting Better Worlds in Neoliberal and Feminist Utopias

The first two panels of the conference addressed the critique of two dominant theoretical (and interrelated) frameworks: capitalism and neoliberalism. Speakers reflected on both in light of theoretical interventions by theorists Rosi Braidotti and Francesca Ferrando. Panelists Benjamin Ghan and Marc Lynch reflected on how creative writers envision ideal worlds and temporalities. In Ghan’s view, utopian narratives create a symphony of voices historically excluded from the category of “the human”: women; LGBTQ+ people; Indigenous peoples. In a similar vein, Lynch described his own novel, A Wasp’s Waist, as highlighting the impossibility of imagining utopias within the capitalist paradigm—and thus the necessity of imagining futures beyond capitalism, and beyond...