6d Science in Postcolonial Speculative Fiction: Nature/Politics/Economies Reimagined

Research Team: Sina Farzin and Julia Schmeink

This project builds on Farzin’s project on science-based utopian and dystopian novels in FMS I. In this corpus, the scientific themes that are most prevalent—both individually and in combination—turned out to be genetic engineering, surveillance technologies, and climate change. Genetic engineering and surveillance techniques are generally presented in the context of ongoing processes of privatization and marketization, and the narratives can be read as harsh but simple critiques of contemporary forms of global capitalism; the fictional representations of climate change generally offer dystopian views of long-term effects. To summarize the results of this first investigation, science-based utopian and dystopian novels tend to present social conflicts at the intersections of science with politics, economics, and nature, while other sectors of society (religion, law, art, and education) do not play a central role.

Against this background, we now turn to a phenomenon that came to light in our research, but has not yet been examined: A significant body of recent fiction imagines a global future in which the political and cultural hegemony has moved from the so-called western world to other areas of the world, such as China (The Collapse of Western Civilization 2014) or Thailand (The Windup Girl (2012). These speculative global narratives of possible future societies are not only found in utopian/dystopian novels, but also in other forms of speculative fiction, such as China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station (2001). In this project, we examine how the geographical shift towards the Global South influences the imaginings of future societies and the role science plays at the nexus of nature, politics, and economies. The research addresses the question how the imagination of future societies and the role of science differs between the Anglo-American settings investigated in FMS I and in novels that unfold imaginaries situated in the Global South or in diverse, transcultural contexts. How is the critical depiction of scientific knowledge production and its technological application characterizing future imaginaries in science novels influenced by the regional and cultural setting of the novels? Do we find other motives and conflict lines between modes of knowledge and practices (e.g. religious, traditional, mythical) than those typical for the Anglo-American science novel?

We will employ the concept of “cognitive estrangement” (Suvin 2001) to analyze these works as critical comments on present social and scientific developments, as well as a more general method that combines interdiscourse analysis (Link/Link-Heer 1990) and the sociology-of-knowledge approach to discourse (Keller 2011b).