Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction
Bloomsbury, London, 12-14 September
Keynote speakers: Dr. Caroline Edwards, Dr. Joan Haran
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 email@example.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 flows of commodities and financial value not only with the wider world, but with networks of possible worlds. In the sex-work of replicants, the criminal ventures of digital cowboys, the domestic labour of the housewives of galactic suburbia, the life-cycles of titanic sandworms with magic spice in their bellies, SF reimagines what is meant by ‘economics.’ These networks – of workers, waged and unwaged, of the objects they produce, consume and are in many instances comprised of, and of the various financial and material systems they occupy – provide the field in which the economics of SF are negotiated. This is a field in which the legacies of slavery, the continued machinations of empire and the commodification of bodies is laid bare and recast in the hopes of imagining economic systems whose material, embodied reality would not be predicated on alienation and exploitation but on the production of new and better futures.
For our 2019 conference, LSFRC invites papers exploring the economic dimensions of SF. We understand ‘economics’ broadly: themes may include labour, finance, production, reproduction, distribution, exchange, value, automation, AI, blockchain and smart contracts, algorithmic governance, platform capitalism, platform co-operativism, migration, remittances, demographic transformation, degrowth and postgrowth, wellbeing economics, reparations, gifts, mutual aid, reciprocity, utopia and other -topias, totality, antiwork and postwork, scarcity and postscarcity, posthuman economics, the demise or evolution of the corporation, the demise or evolution of the nation state, and more. Our understanding of SF is likewise broad, and we welcome proposals considering SF across all media.
Suggested Critical Sources
- Silvia Federici, Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women (2018)
- Primavera De Filippi and Aaron Wright, Blockchain and the Law: The Rule of Code (2018)
- Cheryl McEwan, Postcolonialism, Decoloniality, and Development (2018)
- Will Davies (ed.), Economic Science Fictions (2018)
- Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics (2017)
- Manu Saadia, Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek (2016)
- Peter Frase, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (2016)
- McKenzie Wark, Molecular Red: Theory for Anthropocene (2015)
- Nigel Dodd, The Social Life of Money (2014)
- Kathi Weeks, The Problem With Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries (2011)
- Viviana Zelizer, Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy (2010)
- Erik Olin Wright, The Real Utopias series (1991-2009)
- Michael Albert, Parecon: Life After Capitalism (2003)
- Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun (1998) and “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism” (2003)
- Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons (1990)
These are just a few ideas, and we welcome diverse theoretical approaches, including those grounded in science fiction studies; utopia studies; future studies; new economic criticism and the economic humanities; Marxist literary theory; gender studies and queer theory; digital, ecological, energy, and health humanities; and in political science, economics, sociology, and the social sciences generally. We encourage submissions from collaborators across disciplines and/or institutions. Contributors may also be interested in exploring related conferences and symposiums such as SFRA: The Future of Labor (Milwaukee, July 2018), and From Economic Science Fictions to Labour as Commons (Middlesex, June 2019).
Ideas for topics include, but are not limited to:
- Tales of near future precarity (‘kitchen sink dystopia,’ ‘science friction’ etc.)
- Reproductive labour in SF: domestic automation, galactic surburbia, sex work in space
- Automation, immaterial labour, and the space where SF becomes reality
- The commodified body in neo-slave narratives and/or cyberpunk futures in SF film and TV
- Science fictional reimaginings / abolitions of money, finance, market, state, class, law, family, etc.
- Hopeful, apocalyptic, and mixed visions of climate change: geo-engineering, carbon capture, resilience
- Space tinker, space tailor, space soldier, space spy: how does SF reimagine the division of labour?
- Sustainable villainy: representing antagonism and conflict in a future where co-operation is everything
- Giftedness and indebtedness in SF
- The invisible hand and the great clomping foot: worldbuilding and economics
- The economics of SF’s own cultural production; the economics of fandom
- Science-fictional treatments of scarcity and post-scarcity
- Diverse imperialisms: (neo)colonialism, appropriation, hegemony
- The abolition of money, post-money societies, democratization of money, alternatives to money
- SF and the planned economy (centrally planned and/or decentralised, human and/or AI)
- Speculative economics: economics based on counterfactual and/or impossible premises
- Warring non-states: libertarianism vs. anarchism in SF
- New Economic Criticism (Shell, Goux etc.) and the linguistic economies of SF
- Speculative fiction, speculative finance: the SF of stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, derivatives … and futures
- Speculative fiction, speculative finance, speculative realism: does recent new materialist / speculative realist / posthumanist theory require us to rethink the existence of economic ‘systems’ and ‘structures’?
- The economics of the everyday: how do things like finance, value, exchange, production, labour, infrastructure, demographic transformation, appear in the everyday lives of SF characters?
- SF and queer and crip domesticities
- The economics of food in SF
- Petroculture SF
- Economic aporia and lacunae in SF
- The future of redistributive justice, and the redistributive justice of the future (“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”)
- Data and value
- Reparations, and reparative humanism / reparative post-humanism
- The economics of the post-human; post-human economic agency
- The economics of the non-human / more-than-human; non-human / more-than-human agency
- “Fan-tax-tika”: taxation and fiscal policy in science fiction
- Niche work if you can get it: SF and professionalism
- SF and game theory / reverse game theory
- Where do economics and utopia meet? How might SF contribute to the ongoing evolution of economics? And what might creators of SF, as custodians of radical visions of social organisation, learn from economics?
LSFRC invites papers of 15-20 minutes addressing economic themes in SF. Please submit abstracts of 300 words, plus 50 word bios, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31st May 2019. We also welcome proposals for panels, workshops, and unusual and/or innovative formats of all kinds, as well as any informal queries.
Productive Futures will be held in London, 12-14 September 2019. LSFRC hopes to be able to offer financial assistance to the unwaged and those undergoing financial hardship.