"To be a work [of art] means: to set up a world," Martin Heidegger remarked in his 1950 essay "The Origin of the Work of Art." Tellingly, some four decades later, Carl Malmgren suggested that "the generic distinctiveness of sf lies not in its story but in its world." Both Malmgren and Heidegger have a point—fiction, and more specifically science fiction, is generally more interested in creating plausible worlds than telling convincing stories. In response to the effects and challenges of transmedia convergence, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay has more recently remarked that world-building "determine[s] the relationships in the narrative, even when the action is full of dramatic movement." Accordingly, everything is (happening) in a world; a (more or less) coherent and cohesive world.
In "The Origin of the Work of Art," Heidegger stresses that "[w]orld is not a mere collection of the things […] that are present at hand. Neither is world a merely imaginary framework." "Worlds world," he concludes, meaning that we are subject to worlding "as long as the paths of birth and death […] keep us transported into being." Gayatri Spivak has suggested that the "worlding" of any text carries ideological baggage—political messages that simultaneously naturalize specific concepts and always-already seek to erase themselves. Heidegger himself, for example, denied nonhuman agents the capability of worlding, stating that "plants and animals have no world; they belong […] to the […] environment into which they have been put." As a result, building worlds seems to necessitate creating hierarchies, which lead to processes of oppression and marginalization—from the colonial subtexts of canonical texts Spivak uncovered and the feminist sf of Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and Octavia Butler to afrofuturism and visions of the future in which Earth liberates itself from human dominance.
The conference "Worlding SF: Building, Inhabiting, and Understanding Science Fiction Universes" seeks to explore three thematic clusters—(a) world-building, (b) processes and practices of being in fictional worlds (both from the characters' and readers'/viewers'/players'/fans' points of view), and (c) the seemingly naturalized subtextual messages these fantastic visions communicate (or sometimes even self-consciously address).