I am interested in forming a panel considering fictional representations of the Anthropocene for the next meeting of the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), which will be held in Estonia in May 2024. In general, I am looking for examinations of how well sf prompts effective responses to climate change, species extinction, ecosystem destruction, and other challenges posed by the Anthropocene.

Recent scholars, such as Amitav Ghosh and Dinesh Chakrabarty, have suggested that historical analyses and cultural production in the modern era do not pave the way for collective action. More specifically, they suggest the fields of the humanities have framed definitions of humanity in a way that precludes the collective action needed to fight climate change. For this panel, I’d like to consider the ways sf has challenged (or failed to challenge) the problems they outline.

Modernity’s insistence on individuality and mastery of nature, Ghosh suggests, are not good ways to muster support for generations-long action. Provocatively, in The Great Derangement Ghosh suggests that scholars looking back at our time will be astonished to find so little attention paid to climate change in contemporary cultural productions, although he suggests that there are some science fiction authors who work in this vein. Chakrabarty, in The Climate of History in a Planetary Age, notes that not just the thesis of individuality but also modern forms of area studies and critical theory occlude the unity of the globe and the human species, unities that are precursors to efforts to mitigate the challenges of the Anthropocene. Asking us to remember that just a handful of the world’s nations are responsible for the greenhouse gasses that threaten the planet, Chakrabarty links the Anthropocene to the development of global capitalism.

Papers for this panel will consider sf’s relationship with these issues. Some might point to sf that imagines long-term impacts of technology and empowers readers to take control of technological use are effective counterarguments to the criticisms Ghosh and Chakrabarty pose. Indeed, the elective, science-friendly fan communities engendered by science fiction may be important precursors to the collective action and public understanding of science that pressure corporations and governments for meaningful change. Others might disagree, noting the individualistic strain in sf or the narrow communities of resource exploiters that are often depicted. 

For this panel, I am open to a wide definition of sf (including science fiction, speculative fiction, or science fantasy). Proposals should show how your paper will intersect with science and technology studies, the history of science and technology, ecocriticism, gender and postcolonial studies, and allied fields. Papers could address one of the following questions: 

  • Is the kind of future imagined in sf supportive of or an obstacle to the collective, multi-generational action needed to lessen the negative impact of the Anthropocene? 
  • What are the characteristics of the canon of sf that is most appropriate for faculty and students interested in raising awareness of the Anthropocene or challenging its fundamental assumptions, like anthropocentrism?
  • Does fiction of climate catastrophes model appropriate responses to the Anthropocene? Does this subgenre of sf effectively frame the potential for collective response?
  • What are the key insights from science and technology studies (or related fields) that help imagine the human choice related to ameliorating the negative impacts of the Anthropocene? Which author or group of authors reflect these insights … or which authors are significant culprits in the “derangement” described by Ghosh?

In addition to making 15-20 minute presentations at the conference, I would like the participants of this panel to be willing to develop their conference papers into full-length articles. Before and after the conference, we will work together to develop not just our papers but also an overview of literary responses to the Anthropocene, including a literature review, so that we can pitch our work as a special issue for an appropriate academic journal. Accordingly, I suggest that we meet virtually a few times before the conference to form a common ground and afterwards to prepare our papers for publication.

In order to be considered for this project, please send an abstract (200 words) and a biographical note (150 words) before Nov. 18. I’ll let you know before Nov. 23 if I can include you in the panel. I’ll then make a proposal to the program committee, who ultimately will accept or reject the panel. Enquires in advance of your submission are welcome. 

More detail about the 2024 SFRA conference is available at https://www.sfra2024.ut.ee