Utopia(s) reloaded: science, activism and the techno-eco-social transformation. A GSIS call for talks

Before the turn of the millennium, French philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin drew attention to the “Homeland Earth” of a common humanity.[i] However, such ideas no longer seem to play a major role in the new millennium, while a multiple crisis in social development never reached before has been aggravating self-made existential threats of a social, political, military, economic, ecological and technological nature.

According to Morin, this means: Humanity has objectively grown into a single community of destiny, but subjectively it lacks the awareness of this unity and thus the basis for decisive, timely, goal-oriented action for a good life and survival for all.

Verena Winiwarter, environmental historian and Austria’s Scientist of the Year 2013, recently asked herself in a lecture: “Why don’t ‘we’ act even though ‘we’ know?”[ii] One answer to this is the involvement of actors in an “imperial mode of living” (Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen).[iii] This is due to circumstances that allow a better life to be secured at the expense of other actors. This mode of living resolves the cognitive dissonance with the experience of a deterioration in general living conditions only in pretence in favour of conditions that are advantageous for oneself. Because here one can recall the words of the political poet Erich Fried:

“Anyone who wants the world to stay the way it is, doesn’t want it to stay.”[iv]

The threat of nuclear war and global warming are just two of the global problems that threaten to finally cross tipping points. In January 2023, concerned nuclear scientists put the doomsday clock forward to 90 seconds to midnight.[v] They make it clear how quickly humanity can slip into a social, ecological and technological breakdown and how urgent the breakthrough to an enduring human evolution has become. Looking at the climate, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres introduced his preview of this year’s tasks as follows: “We need disruption to end the destruction.”[vi] In view of the fact that the continued existence and further development possibilities of the human species are increasingly challenged by continued inactivity or insufficient or wrong activities, sciences are faced with the necessity of adapting the form of their communication to civil society, politics and economy more credibly to the transported content, and protest actions demand that the proportionality of their increasingly drastic means be acknowledged. Shortly after being named Austria’s Scientist of the Year 2022, the biodiversity researcher Franz Essl, along with other scientists, showed solidarity with the concerns of the Last Generation’s roadblocks.[vii]

In this situation, we – The Institute for a Global Sustainable Information Society in cooperation with other organisations and networks – invite to talks between members of scientific communities and social movements.

We would like to use this to improve mutual understanding

(1) of social utopias, i.e. humane imaginaries as future destinations,

(2) of transformation paths for realising such visions, i.e. practicable ways to rebuild societies from the here and now, as well as

(3) the assumed connection between path and destination

from the perspective of various scientific disciplines and civil society activism.

In detail, the logics of the ruling, but also the desired

(A) social relations;

(B) social relations to nature; and

(C) social relations to technology

– that all intertwine – are to be addressed.

A fundamental question to be asked is how science and activism can relate to one another:

(I) Are they identical in principle, since both are equally concerned with truth and espousing humanistic values?

(II) Or are they in opposition to each other? Is science only about truth and civil society only about humanistic partisanship?

(III) Or do they have something in common and yet differ? Can – and must – active partisanship require scientific truth and scientific truth enable partisanship for certain values?

The purpose of the talks is to show potential for synergy between science and activism on the basis of the exchange about utopias and transformation, about social, environmental and technical matters as well as about science and activism – synergy that can help promptly to initiate desired and necessary transformative paths to building an alternatively organised world.

Each group that takes part is free to organise its participation in the success of the project according to its own ideas and to join forces with other groups. For this reason, only a part of the programme is developed and defined in advance, so that there is enough space for processes of self-organisation of content.


[i] Edgar Morin: Homeland Earth, A Manifesto for the New Millennium. Hampton Press, Cresskill, New Jersey

[ii] Knowledge4Future Lecture, online, February 17, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQJbeBSUUIs

[iii] Brand, U., Wissen, M.: The imperial mode of living – Everyday life and the ecological crisis of capitalism. Verso, London, New York 2021

[iv] Erich Fried: Status quo (zur Zeit des Wettrüstens). In: Lebensschatten, Klaus Wagenbach, Berlin 1981, p. 93

[v] See https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/#nav_menu

[vi] https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/02/1133192

[vii] See https://www.news.at/a/franz-essl-12883375

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This gathering is scheduled for 26-28 October, 2023, at 4lthangrund in Vienna. Follow updates at our Meetings calendar.

Pls, write to us if you are interested in joining us (office@gsis.at).

[Find here the original German text of this announcement. The English version was produced with the help of Google Übersetzer. The photo above is from sunrise-1756274 used for our logo.]

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