Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions (2020)

Image from Beyond Borders programme (designed by Sinjin Li).


Borders are a pervasive feature of contemporary discourse; a great deal of ideological work is performed by politicians, inter-governmental organisations, the media and academics to make borders appear natural, sacred and inviolable. From the southern border of the US, to the Mediterranean and the Strait of Dover; from gentrification to the prison wall, from sexuality to the imagination; borders are one of colonialism’s primary tools of oppression for the maintenance of inequality, exploitation and violence. In the UK, a fresh wave of demonisation is sweeping through the media against migrants and those who agitate against the regime of deportation. Centuries of British colonial brutality imposed geographical, physical and psychological borders wherever it spread. Yet, apologia for the British Empire and denial of its crimes remain prevalent in every area of UK society. Once again, fascism, always latent in capitalist society, its techniques honed in British colonial policy, spreads around the globe. Time and time again, the British establishment projects its own cruelty, violence and prejudice onto those who are marginalised and othered to justify their exclusion. Academia too, plays a significant role in maintaining the epistemological and material structures of colonial domination.

The impetus of social change and transformation does not reside within the academy or university, as institutions repeatedly seek to deny their own power: their complicity in regimes of racist border violence and capitalist exploitation. If we seek to dismantle borders and abolish the carceral regime, we must look to, listen to and support (by any means) those protestors and activists—across the world—who take to the streets every day and insist on bodily participation in a better world.

The aim of this year’s LSFRC reading group theme, Beyond Borders, has been to amplify those voices in science-fiction who seek to make borders alien and strange. Borders are one of SF’s most consistent preoccupations, from alien encounters, to narratives of outer space colonisation and on to the construction of walls between worlds. Moreover, the many barriers to entry in the publishing industry mean that borders also shape the conditions under which we read SF and determine whose SF we read. Borders are not always codified or officially policed. Too often, they are invisible, insidious, and supported by supposedly benign institutions. However, while SF has perpetuated the violence of borders, it has also revelled in their transgression. Queer creators, disabled creators, and creators of colour have shown us the decolonial and non-binary possibilities opened up by the genre. SF is filled with cyborgs, hybrids, and monsters who challenge binary divisions of self/other, animal/human, technological/organic, and material/immaterial. The body in SF is frequently broken down, expanded, or pushed to its limits, as authors imagine new ways of being and strange erotic couplings. Science-fiction must be decolonised and must recognise its power to shape the imagination of the future and what is possible.

Annual Conference

This conference gave a platform to a diverse range of academics, activists, artists and
creators from around the world. To help achieve this, we are very grateful for the support
and collaboration of both SF Beyond the West and the London Chinese Science Fiction Group. Held over three days, the conference included a lively mix of workshops, roundtables, keynotes and papers. We very much hoped that this conference will create connections and inspire conversations between disciplines and fields. As Homi Bhabha has argued, ‘to dwell ‘in a beyond’ is […] to be part of a revisionary time, a return to the present to describe our cultural contemporaneity; to reinscribe our human, historic commonality; to touch the future on its hither side.’ We move beyond in order to touch and change what is happening now – we envision borderless futures in order to transform the borders which so cruelly police our present.

Held across 10-12 September 2020, our Keynote Speakers were Dr. Nadine El-Enany and Florence Okoye. Our Special Guests on The SF and Translation panel, included Sawad Hussain, Emily Jin, Guangzhao Lyu, Sinéad Murphy, Tasnim Qutait, while on The Creator Roundtable they were Chen Qiufan, Larissa Sansour and Linda Stupart, and Angela YT Chan.

Conference Documents

Information related to this event can be found in this post.
Beyond Borders cfp
Blog post by Bruce Sterling
Conference Report (Fafnir)
SFRA Review Symposium
Blog post by Megen de Bruin-Molé
Conference Report (Foundation) by Graham Head in Foundation 137.