Call for Papers

The University of Warsaw, 8–10 December 2022

(see also


Papers are invited for an international conference at the University of Warsaw on 8–10 December 2022 on the theme ‘The Fantasy–Reality Continuum: Science, Religion, Politics, Culture’. Under the auspices of the Norbert Elias Foundation, the steering group for the conference consists of Marta Bucholc (University of Warsaw), Valerie Dahl (Universität Münster), Marta Gospodarczyk (University of Warsaw), Jason Hughes (University of Leicester), Katie Liston (Ulster University), Stephen Mennell (University College Dublin). The conference will be face-to-face (on-site) in Warsaw with some sessions online.

The topic
The idea of the fantasy–reality continuum plays a key part in Norbert Elias’s sociological theory of knowledge and the sciences. The struggle to achieve relatively more ‘reality congruent’ knowledge has been closely bound up with long-term civilising processes, and notably the gradual reduction of levels of everyday danger and corresponding fears. The gathering pace of the natural sciences involved breaking religions’ historic monopoly over the means of orientation. At the same  time, the social organisation of the sciences brought with it relatively strong controls over the scope of fantasy, with the curbs on emotion and fantasy were  relatively weaker in the realm of politics, and weaker still in the field of cultural creativity.
All this has suddenly become of great contemporary practical and political relevance. The curbs on the free exercise of fantasy have seemed suddenly to be much weaker, and fears are on the rise. As indeed so have, in politics especially, the curbs on untruthfulness: is it now more possible to ‘get away’ with consciously telling lies, possibly with the intention of promoting fantastic beliefs for other people? Examples abound that it is less possible than before to take for granted the effectiveness of social controls over standards of evidence and truth in debates, be it over military aggression parading as self-defense or the unfulfillable campaign promises ending in disasters. Even hard scientific expertise has been affected, as witness for example the denial of climate change and the strength of ‘anti-vax’ fantasies.
Softer scholarly contributions to our knowledge about human societies past and present also face severe challenges by revisionists, reformers and revolutionaries. Among those are the pursuers of historical politics and politics of memory marked by ressentiment, striving to reverse the arrow of time, and fundamentalists, seeking to establish new utopias in lieu of the old ones such as the human rights.

In all this, the new social media have apparently played a decisive part. At first seen as a possible step towards greater democratisation of knowledge production and dissemination, they also appear to have fostered in some quarters an extreme individualistic belief that ‘anything goes’. The Janus nature of an apparently limitless human communication has seldom become so evident.
We hope this topic will stimulate the whole wide range of contributions from scholars of any theoretical and methodological orientation coming from social sciences and humanities, including sociology, economy, history, cultural studies, literary studies, gender studies, migration studies, political science, international relations, theology, and law. It is our goal to bring social-scientific understanding of long-term history processes to bear on the shifts in the fantasy–reality continuum in today’s world. It is anticipated that the conference will comprise five streams, including, apart from a general one, streams on science, religion, politics, and culture, for which the following list of indicative subjects is suggested as a starting point for the contributors’ consideration.

 Are science and the democratisation of knowledge incompatible?
 What does ‘anything goes’ mean in the production and reception of scientific
knowledge? What are the limitation to the laissez-faire in the field of knowledge
 How are we to understand and explain current challenges to scientific expertise
coming from politics, religion, and culture in general?
 What has Covid-19 taught us about the fantasy–reality continuum?
 What are the ethical constraints and restraints of the production of reality-congruent
 Is there such a thing as a ‘scientific fantasy’? What are the scientific fantasies of our

 Can religion survive without fantasy? How much reality-congruence can religion
 Can society survive without religious fantasy? What are the likely replacements – if
any – for religion as a social glue?
 Was the secularisation thesis in sociology a scientific fantasy that is now coming to be
 Is the nineteenth-century conflict between religion and science still relevant in the
twenty-first century?
 How are editions and interpretations of sacred religious texts affected by the political
tensions, behavioural codes and sensibilities of a generation?
 How are we to understand the appeal of different kinds of religious extremism?
 Which religious organisations are still to some degree capable of maintaining a
monopoly of the means of orientation? Under what conditions?
 To what extent can centralized religious organisations be analysed as court societies?
Does Elias’s Die höfische Gesellschaft / The Court Society help in understanding their

 How far can we move towards reducing the fantasy content in political discourse?
What are the main challenges of moving towards more reality-congruent approaches
to politics?
 What role, if any, has fantasy played in the resurgence of wars, notably Russia’s
invasion of Ukraine in 2022? Which fantasies are particularly prone to fuel warlike
imaginaries and attitudes?
 How far can we move towards reducing the fantasy content in established–outsiders
relations in general, in intra- and interstate relations? Can there be exclusion and
integration without collective fantasies?
 Does the upsurge in magical-mythical thinking in politics constitute what Freud terms
‘a return of the repressed?’
 What role do the media/politicians or bureaucrats have in retaining public standards
and distinctions between fantasy and reality?
 Why are conspiracy theories so alluring?
 What changing role do fantasy, wish-fulfilment and paranoia play in the political
ideologies on the left and on the right in times of social tension and disorder?
 Are democracy and the rule of law political fantasies? What fantasies about
democracy and the rule of law prevail in the political ideologies of our times?
 Can process sociology help illuminate the notion of ‘post-truth’?

 How can we analyse national culture and national identity in terms of reality-fantasy
 To what extend do the forms of cultural expression (including cultural practices,
lifestyles, group and class identification and we-images) reflect the reality–fantasy
tensions of our own time?
 Are fantasy and imagination the same thing?
 Elias’s interests included the utopian and dystopian aspects of science fiction for their
insights into the collective fantasies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. How does twenty-first-century science fiction appear in the light of
figurational sociology?
 What is the contribution of biographical studies to understanding the role of fantasy
in artistic creativity?
 What is the role of social media as a domain of individual and collective fantasising?
 Where are museums located on the fantasy–reality continuum? What is the function
of contemporary museums of anxiety, guilt, and terror?
 What effect do climate change, public health crisis and economic crisis have on the
fantasies of consumption and advertising: car ownership, air travel, tourism, etc.?
How does it change everyday culture?

 How can psychoanalytical approaches be used to explain collective fantasies?
 How can we build on, revise, or improve on the idea of the fantasy–reality
continuum? What theoretical perspectives can offer a starting point for it?
 What are the determinants of our thinking about reality-fantasy continuum and its
changes, including in particular the colonial and gender ones? How is our knowledge
situated in terms of moving between fantasy and reality?
 What long-term shifts in socio-political conditions, including changes of class
structures, political systems and geopolitical alliances have allowed the flourishing of
increasing degrees of fantasy-based knowledge?
 Is ‘future’ yet another fantasy?

Submission of papers
Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted to: not later than 15 July 2022.

Abstracts should:
 specify the title of the presentation and the preferred stream;
 give not more than five keywords;
 include details of all institutional affiliations of all the authors (with an indication of
their student/PhD student/independent scholar status);
 indicate the preferred mode of participation (on-site or online); it will be possible to
change the participation mode until the end of September 2022.


The language of the conference will be English.
The authors of the abstracts will be notified of their acceptance and of the registration fees by
the end of July 2022.

Registration for the conference will open on 1 August 2022.

Last edited on:10,Jun 2022 12:27:48 by Norbert Elias Foundation