Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction (2019)

Image credit: Sinjin Li


The history of Science Fiction is a history of unreal economics. Spanning asteroid mining and interstellar trade, robotic workforces and post-scarcity futures, SF offers ways of reimagining the economics of this and other worlds. Oscillating between the tragedies of
neocolonial technocapitalism and the utopian futures made thinkable by a radical redistribution of resources, the novels, films, exhibitions and thought experiments that we will discuss across these three days establish SF as a genre which can and must be understood in economic terms.

This critical orientation is all the more pressing given the acceleration of surveillance capitalism, the increasing precarity experienced by gig economy workers and the wild oscillations of the market produced by speculative finance. In this climate, the economic themes of SF become increasingly visible while the neoliberal economy appears more and more science fictional. Although capitalist liberal democracy continues to present itself as the only viable option, SF offers a rich alternative tradition in which core capitalist institutions – money, the state, the family – are fantastically permutated or abolished altogether. In the sex work of replicants, the criminal ventures of digital cowboys, the domestic labour of the housewives of galactic suburbia, SF reimagines what is meant by ‘economics.’ These are texts in which the legacies of slavery, the ecological devastation of petrocultural modernity and the commodification of bodies are laid bare and recast in the hopes of imagining economic systems which would not be predicated on alienation and exploitation but on the production of new and better futures.

Annual Conference

The conference was held on 12- 14 September 2019 in Bloomsbury, London. Keynote lectures were delivered by Caroline Edwards (Senior Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck, University of London) and Joan Haran (Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University). The Guests of Honour were SF authors Aliette de Bodard, Tade Thompson and Zen Cho.

Conference Documentation

Conference Programme
Conference Report (Vector) by Jasmine Sharma
Blog Post by Jo L. Walton