(Re)Imagining Future Worlds: Political Ecologies of Science Fiction

In this call for (non)papers, we ask: Should political ecology move away from critique-as-judgment? What do more experimental forms of critique (and academic knowledge production more broadly) look like? How can we use speculative/science fiction as a tool for envisioning radically alternative futures for our own society? More broadly, what role do academic conferences (such as DOPE) play in not only sharing and disseminating knowledge, but actively producing it as well? And finally, can such knowledge production realistically bring about the manufacture of more socio-ecologically just futures?


For this session, we seek proposals that take as their basis of inquiry some pre-existing future – as established in (written, illustrated, or filmed) works of speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, utopian- or dystopianism, etc. – and, rather than relying exclusively on critique-as-judgment, use their chosen futurity as a creative and experimental opening into the imagining of more socio-ecologically just futures. Alternatively, participants are also encouraged to construct their own future worlds as a means of examining political ecological themes not yet explored in established works of fiction. We ask that participants create a brief presentation (approx. 10 minutes) that (A) “sets up” their chosen futurity and (B) offers a concise political ecological critique of that future. Once all panelists have presented on and critiqued their future worlds, they will join together with the session audience (via Q&A) in order to collaboratively speculate upon what lessons these imagined worlds hold for our own futures and how we might draw upon these lessons to envision radically alternative futures for ourselves and our posterity. 


Please submit a presentation abstract of no more than 300 words to Thomas E. Grubbs (thomas.grubbs@uky.edu) and A. Lee Sutton (a.l.sutton@uky.edu) by Monday, December 12th. Participants will be notified by Wednesday, December 14th and must register for the conference at www.politicalecology.org by Thursday, December 15th.



Additional information:


Geographer Simon Dalby has described the Anthropocene as “a lightening rod for political and philosophical arguments about what needs to be done, the future of humanity, the potential of technology and the prospects for civilization” (2016). At the same time, Bruce Braun has argued that “the concept of the Anthropocene has introduced new ontological and epistemological questions that challenge divisions between ‘nature’ and ‘society’, destabilize the ground upon which critique stands, and place in question our ability to know and predict socio-ecological futures” (2015). An integration of these two arguments results in an understanding of the Anthropocene as both a potential wellspring of possible futurities and a simultaneous problematizing of the basis by which we might judge the socio-ecological integrity of those same futures. How, then, do we as political ecologists (and social scientists more generally) begin to engage with the production of these “Anthropocene futures” and on what basis might we begin to critique them? 


Given political ecology’s emphasis on “exploring alternatives, adaptations, and creative human action in the face of mismanagement and exploitation” (Robbins 2004) and its aim of exposing the unequal power relations involved therein, the field is clearly well-positioned to tackle questions regarding alternative futures and the role of politics, technology, and the global economy in those futures. However, what form should such a critique assume? In Rethinking Political Ecology for the Anthropocene (2015), Braun describes a shift in recent political ecological work away from the field’s traditionally critical roots towards a new emphasis on experimental alterity, involving more “inventive, affirmative, creative and playful engagements with the socio-ecological worlds in which we live.” Such experimentation is to be viewed as a conscious distancing from previous modes of political ecological critique, which are understood to be prohibitive towards the free imagining of radically alternative futures. 


Taking this shift from critique to experimentation as our point of departure, we aim to create a space at DOPE 2017 for a critically uncritical exploration into the Anthropocene and the possible environments, societies, and worlds that it promises. In doing so, we aim to move beyond critique-as-judgement towards the realization of experimental criticism (Braun), or critique as a mode of inquiry into future possibilities. To facilitate such a transition, we propose a session that does away with formal paper presentations and instead actively and creatively engages with possible futurities through a process of collaborative speculation around future worlds.





Braun, Bruce. "Rethinking political ecology for the Anthropocene." The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology (2015): 102-114.


Dalby, Simon. "Framing the Anthropocene: The good, the bad and the ugly." The Anthropocene Review 3, no. 1 (2016): 33-51.









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