Call for Papers: Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction
May22

Call for Papers: Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction

Conference: 12-14 September 2019 Deadline for Abstracts: 31 May 2019 Keynote speakers: Dr. Caroline Edwards (Birkbeck), Dr. Joan Haran (Cardiff University) Guests of honour: Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho, Tade Thompson The history of science fiction (SF) is a history of unreal economics: from asteroid mining to interstellar trade, from robotic workforces to utopian communes, from the abolition of money and property to techno-capitalist tragedies of the near future. The London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) invites abstracts of 300 words, plus 50 word bios, addressing economic themes in SF, and/or exploring how SF can help to widen and evolve our sense of the economic. Please submit to lsfrcmail@gmail.com by 31st May 2019. As the global economy is transformed by AI and automation, the economic themes of SF grow considerably more visible in everyday political discourse. Although capitalist liberal democracy continues to present itself as only reasonable option for ordering complex modern societies, SF offers a rich alternative tradition in which core capitalist institutions – money, finance, market, state, class, law, family – are fantastically permutated or abolished altogether. And, while mainstream economics tends to frame technological innovation as unproblematic progress – driving productivity, growth, and prosperity – SF has a much more critical and flexible understanding of how technology relates to everyday economic life. Economics often likes to believe that it is about everything and anything. What do we spend our days doing? What gets made, and how? Who gets to own, use, and consume resources? Who works, and how, and why? Why are some things valued more than others? The reality is, the models of mainstream economics are established on a set of exclusions. Intricate social and cultural institutions are swept to one side, as though they either don’t matter, or are so natural and immutable that they can be taken for granted. Socially reproductive labour and affective labour is obscured, as are the histories of colonial war and appropriation on which most modern wealth is founded. Any understanding of economic systems as structured around the intricate network of intersecting, generative identities of the people whose labour, and frequently whose bodies, constitute it, is dispensed with. Instead we are presented with Homo economicus, the egoist agent pursuing its (frequently his) fixed set of interests. And the complex ecological connectivity of the more-than-human world is reduced to ‘natural capital,’ merely another input into the production process. But many SF works – from Samuel Delany’s Triton, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Pamela Zoline’s ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, Octavia Butler’s Parables series, to Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 – radically challenge the narrowness of these visions. Such works reconnect...

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Organic Systems: Session 1 – report
May14

Organic Systems: Session 1 – report

Organic Systems: Science Fiction & Ecology Today Session 1: SF & Critical Ecologies (Goldsmiths): 2nd May 2019 Organic Systems is a series of four workshops on Science Fiction and Ecology, aimed primarily at postgraduate research students and supported by CHASE, the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts in South-East England. The series is a collaboration between Birkbeck and Goldsmiths, two colleges of the University of London, and specifically between the Centre for Contemporary Literature (Birkbeck) and the Critical Ecologies research strand (Goldsmiths). Each workshop has the following aims: To provide beneficial research expertise from guest speakers in designated training sessions. To hold round-table sessions in which guest speakers with strong research interests and expertise will present and discuss ideas – with contributions also welcome from the registered participants. To encourage meeting and networking among scholars in related areas, leading to the development of this research area. The first of the four workshops was held at Goldsmiths on Thursday 2nd May 2019. We began by reflecting in general terms on the rationale of the series and the connections between SF and ecology. We noted the still emerging interest in SF as critical field – in literary studies, film, media, culture, visual art, and so on. Locally, an important agent in this has been the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC), a group primarily based at Birkbeck but involving members from elsewhere. It was LSFRC that first used the title Organic Systems, applied to a series of reading groups that culminated in a symposium in 2017. We thus borrow our title with due respect to them. We can also note an increasing role for SF as a way of thinking about other fields – such as economics,  sociology, media, urbanism, or – as we want to explore – ecology. A good example of this crossover is Economic Science Fictions (2018), edited by William Davies and published by the Goldsmiths Press in 2018. Such work suggests that SF may currently be an interdisciplinary space where different social concerns can meet in fantastical and speculative form. Meanwhile, ecology is more insistent in the media and public consciousness than it has been some time. Indeed the last month or so before our first session featured the dramatic protests staged by the group Extinction Rebellion, and the intervention of Swedish school striker Greta Thunberg into UK politics, among other ongoing events. It is sometimes said that among all cultural and artistic forms, science fiction is unusually well placed to address such concerns: because of its ability to extrapolate and estrange, and because it might be better able than other narrative forms to match the...

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Imagined Futures: Museum of London Display
Oct28

Imagined Futures: Museum of London Display

Birkbeck's very own Dr Caroline Edwards has curated a new display at the Museum of London on Imagined Futures. The display was commissioned as part of the year-long City Now: City Future programme of events and the design work was undertaken by Martin McGrath Studio. The display is installed at the Museum's Rotunda terrace, is free to access and will be up until April 2018.  Writers displayed include: Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Richard Jefferies, George Orwell, John Wyndham, Anthony Burgess, J. G. Ballard, Emma Tennant, Doris Lessing, Neil Gaiman, J. K. Rowling, China Miéville, Maggie Gee, Bernardine Evaristo and Julie Myerson. Here's the blurb: Of all cities, London is one of the most widely represented in literature. During the 19th century, when it rose to prominence as the centre of the British Empire, London was considered the peak of civilisation. However, this achievement was matched by the violence of a colonial system that damaged the places and peoples from which the city drew its vast wealth, in India, Africa and the Caribbean. London therefore made the ideal setting in which to imagine future visions – in books that destroy the metropolis through scenes of devastation, or rebuild it as a fairer society. From Mary Shelley’s disaster novel, The Last Man (1826), to H. G. Wells’s techno-utopian vision in The Sleeper Awakes (1899), London established its reputation as a city in which to enact different visions of the future in literature. In the 20th century, such imagined futures became increasingly bleak, particularly in the post-World War II period, and by the 1970s writers were experimenting with surreal future London landscapes. More recently, London has become home to the leading characters in influential books for younger readers, such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (1996). In the 21st century, as we come to terms with the environmental impact of climate change, the city has once again found a new role as a literary setting. This display was curated by Dr Caroline Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck, University of London, and designed by Martin McGrath Studio. Quotes reprinted by kind permission of the authors/publishers. Featured image ©Museum of London. Used with...

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Report: Caroline Edwards Keynote for Dystopia Now
Jun18

Report: Caroline Edwards Keynote for Dystopia Now

by Caroline Edwards   Birkbeck's Centre for Contemporary Literature recently organised a one-day conference titled 'Dystopia Now,' held at the School of Arts on 26 May 2017. I was really thrilled to be asked to deliver the opening keynote for the conference, alongside Dr Mark Bould who gave the closing keynote to round off the day's talks.  My talk was titled 'Techno-modernity: how we love it, how we fear it' and considered the way in which ‘techno-modernity’ inspires a double-sided speculative response among writers: firstly, giving concrete form to our fear of the loss of modernity and/or civilisation that we find in so many post-apocalyptic narratives (like dystopias, these are enjoying an impressive renaissance just now) – this is why we love it; and, secondly, also inspires our fear of the kind of future modernity will deliver in its final, perfected incarnation – and this is why we hate it. In the spirit of Gregory Claeys’ authoritative new book, Dystopia: A Natural History (2017), I focussed on a few aspects of literary dystopianism that we can chart through some of the indicative early texts of the genre. These texts comprise what Tom Moylan and Rafaella Baccolini would term ‘the classical, or canonical, form of dystopia’ (Moylan and Baccolini 1) – as described in their influential edited collection, Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination (2003) – including the utopian problem of labour (who will do the drudgery/menial work in the good society) and the solution of automation; the question of designing the good society (in techno-modernity, read here, the good city) and architectural visions of the future; the relationship between the individual subject and the utopian collective (what happens when collectivisation or community is forced or imposed upon you? What happens to privacy and individual space in these techno-modern cities? How are social units organised (families, childbearing etc.).   In the talk, I considered canonical early and proto-dystopian texts, such as E. M. Forster’s 1909 novella 'The Machine Stops,' novels that challenged late nineteenth-century monopoly capitalism, including Émile Souvestre’s The World as It Will Be ('Le monde tel qu’il sera,' 1846), Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column (1890), and Frank Norris’ anti-railroad novel, The Octopus (1901) – which I argued might be considered proto-dystopian in their visions of oligopolistic capitalism, which offer a striking relevance for our own contemporary era of unfettered neoliberal globalisation – and more orthodox dystopias such as Jack London’s The Iron Heel (1908), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1924 novel We ('My'), Valery Bryusov’s overlooked symbolist short story 'The Republic of the Southern Cross' (Respublika iuzhnogo kresta) (1907), and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). I briefly discussed feminist anti-fascist dystopian texts of the...

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Call For Papers: Waste: A Symposium
Apr10

Call For Papers: Waste: A Symposium

CFP: Waste: A Symposium, Papers on Disposability, Decay, and Depletion Birkbeck, University of London, 21 September 2017 A one-day event to be held at Birkbeck College, University of London, on 21 September 2017.   Confirmed keynote speakers: Professor Esther Leslie (Birkbeck, University of London) Dr Leo Mellor (University of Cambridge) Dr Rachele Dini (UCL / University of Cambridge) This one-day interdisciplinary event will make visible the untold story of waste by exploring its representations, both material and metaphorical, within contemporary culture. Through an investigation of waste’s presence (or lack thereof) within modern life, this conference will disrupt the entrenched value judgements surrounding objects, places and people otherwise deemed redundant. By exploring how we create, classify and treat waste material this discussion will simultaneously review and challenge the ethics of human waste(-ing); the marginalisation of populations rendered disposable within a globalised socio-economic framework. Calling on related discourses from the arts, social sciences, medical humanities and beyond, this symposium will bring together a diverse mix of academics, artists and industry experts to share insights on a (waste) matter that impacts and implicates us all. The event will be free to attend, with lunch and refreshments provided on the day and a drinks reception for attendees and speakers in the evening.   Call for papers (deadline 1 May 2017): Proposals are invited for twenty minute papers which will be presented in panels of three. Abstracts of up to 500 words should be submitted to: wasteconference2017.mailbox@bbk.ac.uk by the 1st of May 2017. Please also include a short bio (no more than 150 words), contact details, and any institutional or industry affiliation. Possible paper topics include (but are not limited to) the following: Pollution and toxicity (e.g. physical / metaphorical, environmental, social) Junk, dirt and rubbish (e.g. the abject, hygiene, creation of) Decomposition and decay (e.g. illness, corpses, physical ‘wasting’) The temporality of waste (e.g. ‘wasting time’, ageing and depletion) The geography of waste (e.g. LULUs, derelict spaces, wastelands) Literatures of waste (e.g. fiction about waste, recycling, printing) Human waste / Wasted humans (e.g. bodily matter, biopolitics of disposability) Petrocultures and industrial waste (e.g. extraction, environmental damage of) Economies of waste (e.g. commodification, the cost of waste, disposal industries) Following the conference, there will be the opportunity to submit papers for a Special Collection in the journal Open Library of Humanities (8,000 words, peer reviewed) and Alluvium Journal (2,000 words, non-peer reviewed).     Featured image by Alan Levine under a CC BY...

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