Leila Alexandra Dawney (University of Exeter)


From 09:00
to 10:30
From 09:00
to 10:30

Course description
The challenges posed by the Anthropocene, and by the very real threat of climate change to the earth as we know it, has generated a renewed interest in science and speculative fiction. This course begins explores the idea of the future in the context of contemporary debates on the Anthropocene, and investigates some of the ways in which Anthropocene futures have been represented.
The course begins with an introduction to futures studies, looking at concepts such as utopia and dystopia, as well as the idea of “the future”. We will explore how futures are governed, managed and mitigated against through explorations of risk and scenario planning, and how futures are prepared for, using the examples of “doomsday preppers” and other millenarian groups. We will also consider how futures are actively performed through prefigurative political action, using the examples of climate camps and intentional communities. In the second part of the course, we will draw on a range of critical theoretical and primary texts, to look at how futures are imagined in science fiction, speculative thought and posthumanist philosophy. This part of the course will explore how contemporary problems and concerns are projected onto future fantasies, and how critical accounts of the present (and past) have led to emergent visions of radical futures and new worlds. In doing so, we will look at examples from Silicon Valley knowledge capitalism, cyberpunk, solarpunk, climate fiction, 1960s countercultures, Afrofuturism and indigenous futurism.
Central to these discussions will be the who gets to envisage and define the future, and who doesn’t: why some visions of environmental futures gain traction while others may not, and how science, societies and environments have been re-made as certain future visions have either risen to prominence or remained hidden from view. As a result, we’ll consider the knowledge politics of futures thinking, focusing on the seductive power of optimistic discourses such as technofuturism and the concept of the “good Anthropocene” versus the tactics used by marginalised groups to propose alternative futures.

Learning outcomes
By the end of the course, students will understand some of the key ways in which futures have been imagined, prepared for, and mitigated against. They will understand the role that anticipation and precaution plays in contemporary geopolitics. Students will be able to identify how future imaginaries reflect contemporary concerns, identify some key genres and themes, and critically discuss the politics of future representation. Finally, students will be able to reflect on the political potential of speculative and science fiction thought.

Teaching and learning
Teaching will be interactive throughout, with a combination of seminar discussions, student reading and discussion groups based on film and literature, group scenario planning workshops and field visits.

2000 word essay (50%).
2000 word book or film review (50%)
Students submit one essay and one book or film review, each 2000 words long. The tutor will provide a list of books and films for the review, and a series of essay titles. Alternatives may be possible in consultation with the tutor.

Week by week - Indicative Structure
What is the future – utopia and dystopia
Futures and progress
Governing and managing the future
Scenario planning games
Imagining the future - introduction
Ecological utopias
Anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationocene
Debate and discussion
Venice’s futures - FIELD TRIP
Coursework preparation and tutorials
EXAM WEEK- in class discussion, speculative writing sharing and evaluation


Indicative Reading List

What is the future – utopia and dystopia
Bird, J., Curtis, B., Putnam, T. and Tickner, L. eds., 2012. Mapping the futures: Local cultures, global change. Routledge.
Fisher, M., 2014. Ghosts of My Life Winchester, Zero Books. Chapter 1: “The slow cancellation of the future” pp2-29

Futures and progress
Adelman, S., 2015. Epistemologies of mastery. In Research handbook on human rights and the environment. Edward Elgar Publishing.
Helliwell, C. and Hindess, B., 2005. The temporalizing of difference. Ethnicities, 5(3), pp.414-418.
Spencer, H., 1881 Progress: Its Law and Cause, With Other Disquisitions (New York: J. Fitzgerald, 1881), 233– 34, 236, 238, 243. Excerpts here:

Governing and managing the future
Anderson B. 2010. ‘Preemption, precaution, preparedness: anticipatory action and future geographies’ Progress in Human Geography 34(6), 777-798
Barker, Kezia. "How to survive the end of the future: Preppers, pathology, and the everyday crisis of insecurity." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 45, no. 2 (2020): 483-496.
de Goede M, Simon S, Hoijtink M. 2014. ‘Performing preemption’ Security Dialogue 45(5), 411-422 (introduction to special issue, so have a look at the rest of the issue too)
Jeffrey C, Dyson J. Geographies of the future: Prefigurative politics. Progress in Human Geography. May 2020. doi:10.1177/0309132520926569

Imagining the future
Weisman, A (2022) The World Without Us Virgin Books
Swyngedouw, E., 2010. Apocalypse forever? Theory, culture & society, 27(2-3), pp.213-232.

An Ecomodernist Manifesto
Replies to an ecomodernist manifesto: Special commentary section. Environmental Humanities, vol 7 issue 1, 2016. Includes articles by Bruno Latour, Bronislaw Szerszynski, Caradonna, J., Borowy, I., Green, T., Victor, P.A., Cohen, M., Gow, A. and Heinberg, R., 2015.


Neyrat, Frédéric and Ross, D., 2020. The Black Angel of history: Afrofuturism’s cosmic techniques. Angelaki, 25(4):120-134.
Mayer, Ruth (2000). "Africa as an Alien Future": The Middle Passage, Afrofuturism, and Postcolonial Waterworlds. Amerikastudien/American Studies, 45 (4): 555-566.

Queer futures and alternative reproductive futures
Video: Haraway on making kin
OR Chapters 4 and 8 of Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene
Sheldon, R. (2013) Somatic Capitalism: Reproduction, Futurity, and Feminist Science Fiction. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.3. doi:10.7264/N3VX0DFT

Ecological utopias
Canavan, G., 2021. Science Fiction and Utopia in the Anthropocene. American Literature, 93(2), pp.255-282.
Hamraie, A., 2020. Alterlivability: Speculative Design Fiction and the Urban Good Life in Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing and City of Refuge. Environmental Humanities, 12(2), pp.407-430.

Anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationocene
Jason W. Moore (2017) The Capitalocene, Part I: on the nature and origins of our ecological crisis, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 44:3, 594-630, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2016.1235036
Video lecture, 2019. Making Sense of the Planetary Inferno: Planetary Justice in the Web of Life, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2 July.
2016. Capitalism in the Web of Life, public lecture, Broome County Sierra Club, 15 January.
Davis, J., Moulton, A.A., Van Sant, L. and Williams, B., 2019. Anthropocene, capitalocene,… plantationocene?: A manifesto for ecological justice in an age of global crises. Geography Compass, 13(5), p.e124-38.
Haraway, D., 2015. Anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationocene, chthulucene: Making kin. Environmental humanities, 6(1), pp.159-165.

Venice’ futures
Robinson, K. (2010). Venice drowned in J. Strahan (ed) Drowned Worlds, Solaris
Also in Kim Stanley Robinson, 2010 The best of Kim Stanley Robinson Night Shade
Ghosh, Amitav (2019) Gun Island Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Nanson, A., 2020. “The Future Has Gone Bad; We Need a New One” 1: Neoliberal science fiction and the writing of ecotopian possibility. In Storytelling for Sustainability in Higher Education (pp. 130-142). Routledge.


Last updated: July 2, 2023


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