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10-12 April 2019, University of Amsterdam. Organized by Divya Nadkarni, Alex Thinius, and Nadia de Vries Keynotes: Jonathan Culler (Cornell University), Annabelle Dufourcq (RU Nijmegen), Nkiru Nzegwu (SUNY Binghamton), Susanna Paasonen (University of Turku).

“Fantasy is precisely what reality can be confused with. It is through fantasy that our conviction of the worth of reality is established; to forgo our fantasies would be to forgo our touch with the world.” (Stanley Cavell)

The world of fantasy often serves as an escape from reality, its limitations, and its many social, economic, and corporeal restrictions. Reality, in turn, is often desired amidst the delusions of the fantastic. However, the two are not always separate. For instance, while social (trans)formations increasingly look like fantasy in more than one sense, a serious turn towards fantasy seems to be ambivalent. A central notion in earlier psycho-analytical culture critique, after being hyped in Fantastic, Futurist and Utopist literature, today, fantasy as a political means of critique seems to have become a delusionary distraction. Yet, fantasy also seems to remain a booming aspect of reality. Creative forms of protest, ideas of aesthetic resistances and critiques are proliferating, and fantasies fomented by magical-realist literatures, blockbusters, serials, pornography, and gaming in the creative industries and digital media seem to be increasingly intertwined with reality.

Some of the conceptual sites where reality and fantasy meet are idealizations, utopias, phantasms, self-deceptions, anxieties, self-fulfilling prophecies, and implicit biases realizing or enacting themselves in reality; fantasies made real and realities made fantasy. The boundaries between what is desired or feared and what is lived, what is oneiric and what is substantial, what is true, and what is realistic and unreachable are often blurred.

In critical and cultural theory, a continuous ambivalent desire for reality appears, for example, in the discussions of New and Speculative Realisms (Gabriel, Meillassoux), Agential Realism (Barad), political and metaphysical Non-Ideal Theory, Critical Race Realism, or Gender Neo-Realism (Mills, Alcoff, Haslanger, Mikkola), in the Ontological Turn in anthropology (Viveiros de Castro, Venkatesan et al., Holbraad et al.), and in the turn towards Authenticity and New Sincerity in contemporary literary theory (Rutten, Vaessens and Van Dijk, Trilling).

In this workshop, we take on the continuous and renewed interest in the real in its relation to fantasy, illusion, and imagination. Whereas typically, debates on realism are focused on its contrast to idealism or nominalism, we ask: What are the contemporary relations between realities and fantasies? How do reality and fantasy speak to intellectual imaginings and possible futures? What role can or should fictions, fantasies, and idealizations play in addressing change from a social, political, individual, and metaphysical perspective? We are interested in presentations that take on the ways in which reality and fantasy relate, how they may contrast, and how, and under what conditions, the one may transform into the other.

The workshop addresses the kinship between realities and fantasies in the following three respects: relations, transformations, and discontinuities.


How do realities and fantasies relate, and how are their relations structured? Does one shape the other, or are they shaped by each other? Is one more valuable than the other? What kinds of relations do they enable? What are the relations between fantasies and the realities they shape, affect, create, envision, or hide? The way we seek to influence, manipulate, change or defy our present pertains to what kinds of relations we envision between both ourselves, as humans, as well as non-human beings. This, in turn, asks for the conditions that make relations possible or impossible, satisfactory or unsatisfactory, utilitarian or utopian, and for the hierarchies, power structures, intentions and capacities that enable and delimit ways of relating.

Moreover, we are interested in examining conceptual, normative, empirical, literary and artistic ways to address the relations between and within fantasies and realities: how are social bonds and interpersonal relations constructed and what are the interrelationships between power, fantasy, actors, action, and forms of socio-political embodiment?


We are interested in how transformations work, in socio-cultural, political, theoretical and philosophical terms, and in the role that realities and fantasies play in them. What are the transformations within and between realities and fantasies? How does (or can) the one transform into the other? What are the characteristics of the real and the fantastical, and what concrete entanglements, interactions, and interdependencies exist between them?

Transformations are happening everywhere, all the time. We can, for example, see the transformative effects of gentrification, of modernity, of reproduction, of colonialism, of aging, of war, of violence, of translation, and of censorship. We can also see how resistance movements and certain social practices actively transform the ways in which we embody and experience. However, insofar as processes and acts of transformation are about changing and giving rise to new forms, they also seem to imply moments of direction and division, exclusion, or rejection in order to define, group, or associate what can be meaningful. We welcome presentations that analyze (both descriptively and normatively) such transformations, or think about how to approach transformative action, and confront the in-between spaces, possible exclusions and hierarchies wrought by envisioned social, political, and cultural transformations.


What continuities and discontinuities are there between realities and fantasies? How would rupturing the patterns of dominance (or the sundering of continuity) become a means of effective transformation? How can (un)productive collisions between reality and fantasy foster socio-political, artistic, and/or cultural change? How do fantasies of change and discontinuity hide or produce real continuities? And how can existing continuities between reality and fantasy be rethought?

We are interested in presentations that (re)consider the role of existing structures, practices, traditions, and forms in likely, potential, or imagined transformations. From the perspective of dis/continuity, we are particularly interested in the question of what constitutes a continuum (for example, in a given tradition) and how such continuums can be either broken or sustained.

We welcome papers from the fields of literary studies, media studies, philosophy, arts, anthropology, sociology, and political theory that speak to, but are not limited to:

  • The conceptual, normative, de facto, and/or imagined interrelations of fantasies with realities
  • Idealist, non-idealist, materialist, or realist theories in their pragmatic or socio-cultural environments
  • The role of realities and fantasies in socio-cultural critique, social construction, and enactment
  • The dynamics of translation, e.g. in literature, media, material culture, or theory
  • relations, transformations, and dis/continuities in artistic, literary, poetic, theoretical, or musical forms
  • The body in the field of reality and fantasy
  • Interrelationships between power, fantasy, actors, action, forms, and reality
  • How political fantasies (e.g. nationalisms) influence social/interpersonal relations
  • How cultural fantasies give shape to new modes of expression, understanding, institutionalizing, bonding, and resisting.
  • Fantasy as a political vehicle of real, unwanted, feared, or desired social transformation

Practical details

We welcome proposals for academic and artistic contributions that speak to the concerns of the workshop as outlined above. Abstracts (max. 300 words) and a short biographical note (max. 100 words) should be submitted to before 15 November 2018 (the October 15 deadline has been extended). Submissions will be responded to before 1st December.

Written versions of all papers will be circulated to all participants before the workshop. All accepted speakers are required to submit a 3000-word paper before 1st March 2019 (extended from February 15), so every participant get’s the chance to have a look at the other papers in their panel. We kindly ask prospective participants to bear this in mind before submitting an abstract.

Thanks to the generous support by the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, participation is free and lunches will be provided. All questions about the workshop can be directed at the email address mentioned above. More information will soon be announced on: