Science-Fiction auf der ISA Toronto

Auf der ISA General Conference in Toronto (#ISA2019) vom 27. bis 30. März 2019 präsentierte ich mein Papier “Utopia or Dystopia? Is technological development science-fiction?”


By the end of 2010 a series of anti-government protests against non-democratic, non-liberal regimes started from Tunisia and spread to other countries including Libya, Egypt and Syria. Social media was identified as the driving force behind those protests called the “Arab spring” (Howard 2011). Thus, generally, the progress of the digital age in information communication technologies (ICT) was praised to topple regimes, increase transparency and allow those who have been marginalized, discriminated and excluded before to be part of an inclusive democratic process. Technology was seen as the chance to enable liberal democratic principles and human rights to come to the fore as a universal identity and value.

However, all technological progress which can be used to strengthen democratic values can equally be used to counter them. Soon disillusionment set in – in the Western the same as in the Arab world. Not only that the regimes reacted by shutting down certain websites, social forums or the internet completely. Around the globe new technology including digitalization, the internet, platforms and AI enable filter bubbles, echo chambers and manipulative voter targeting in social media thus endangering the very core concepts of democracies (Thiel 2018). New technologies provide states and corporations with tools for social profiling, scoring and digital surveillance, and facilitate a “global surveillance bureaucracy” (Castells 2018).

The possible dangers of these developments for our Western perception of political liberal humanism preserved in inalienable human rights and democratic systems are discussed within a broad discursive space including politics, civil society organizations, social sciences, academic disciplines such as history and philosophy, and also the science-fiction genre. On the one hand, the very worldwide realization of liberal democracy ad universal human rights through technology – through science – might be understood as science-fiction when we speak of (former) utopian dreams of politicians, scientists and activists. On the other hand, having a look at science-fiction-films and literature and additional discursive material, one can see that in the actual science-fiction-genre this utopia does not exist; quite the contrary in most cases new technologies work against our conception of liberal humanism and end in a dystopia – even though authors and film-makers could decide otherwise. However, as I argue, if the technological leap is so immense that we overcome our human nature and let go of western liberal democratic conceptions, utopian alternatives to our permanent struggle for liberal humanism are possible.