Welcome in a new societal and scientific era. Welcome to digitalization and the possibilities it creates for meeting up with each other in a different space and timeframe. It won't go back to what it was. But in the absence of a clear vision of what it can become we can just step in, step up or stumble into this new dimension.
We live in a societal realm where robotics and artificial intelligence are strongly reshaping our futures. The boundaries between (wo)mankind and machine have increasingly become blurred. Our phones are an extension of our hand, our computers have become the gatekeepers to significant others. Robots we are not, perhaps not yet. Desires, expectations and visions differ. Where would a detailed cartography of the individual and social impact of becoming machine, partly already being machine, or living in symbiosis with machines lead us? How do we imagine a future with, without or as part of the materiality that currently surrounds us? How do the implicit world views as presented in fiction, fantasy and progressive research shape our future image?
We tremble, we hesitate, we struggle to make sense of belonging to the cloud and the tangibility of our private spaces. It recasts our vision on what it means to be present as a human. It reshapes our notion of what an identity is, or how it embodies itself in the relation with others, humans and non-humans. New complexities and assemblages challenge our thinking and actions. When does technology become a marker of inclusivity, or exclusivity? Can it be both at the same time? Who is rewriting the discourse on inclusive societies? A new generation of digital natives sits on the forefront of decision making. Where does that leave us? We adopt and adapt in the absence of clear alternatives. At the same time, we try to imagine what a playful fusion with technology would look like. Is a symbiotic relationship with non-humans possible? If so, how can we build an affirmative, pleasure-prone relationship with them?
Our societal and academic reality is rapidly changing, facing a multitude of challenges. We invite our scholarly community to help us think through the multiple challenges this rapid change will bring. Technological progress creates new possibilities. Alternatively, it might perhaps pose a danger to liberal democracy or reinstall undesirable exclusion mechanisms. Bring your stories about how humans materialize differently as a result of the discursive-material socio-technical realities they are part of. Increase our insight in how machines think, act, sympathize and socialize with us. Think techno-embodiment, self-design, art-ification, digi-bodiment, smart cities but equally, bring your stories about how to resist a technological smartness that is all over the place or just change the game! Anxious? Hesitant? Overwhelmed? Disempowered? We hear you. Bring these stories too.
We welcome you in our vibrant community of qualitative inquirers worldwide. This year, we will not be walking on Leuven’s cobblestones yet, but bear with us. We will create the common ground for you to walk and wander with colleagues on our collaborative interactive academic and social platforms. So resist, evoke, disrupt, contribute, connect, think, talk, trigger, but above all come and virtually hug each other.
We look forward to meet you at the 5th edition of the European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. Welcome at KU Leuven!
Prof.Karin Hannes, research group SoMeTHin'K, Faculty of Social Sciences, KU Leuven
Prof. Fred Truyen, research group Literary Theory and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Arts, KU Leuven