Conference 'Race, Gender and Technology in Science-Fiction'

Race and Gender

Aliens, journeys into space, time travel, wormholes, parallel universes, dark matter, artificial intelligence, robots, cyborgs, self-replicating androids, super computers becoming self-aware, memory implants, optograms, secret weapons, autonomous objects, connected objects, enhanced reality, mass surveillance and the global panopticon, robocops, utopias, terraforming, galactic empires, future cities, technosociety, mutants, degeneration, dystopias… Whilst the focus in science-fiction studies has often been on the ethical dilemmas that accompany (real or anticipated) scientific innovations, this conference wishes instead to concentrate on the illuminations that science-fiction stories can bring to critical race theory and gender studies. Writers of science-fiction extrapolate from the realms of scientific knowledge or theory, or from technology, techniques, machines or instruments, and thus envisage the possibilities of new social organisations, the appearance of new social facts, or new social norms. This conference aims primarily to explore the intersections between fictional science and the dynamics of race and gender.

How has anticipatory literature (including short stories, graphic novels, films, TV series…) interacted with the life sciences to question the biologisation of race and gender? How have its utopias/dystopias engaged with questions of gender, sexuality and empowerment? How have its scenarios addressed the African-American, Chicano/a, Asian-American, Native American experience, double-consciousness, colourblindness, whiteness or white privilege? How does science-fiction engage with history, the colonial past, Jim Crow or slavery? How has Afrofuturism changed in the digital age? Papers that investigate any of these topics are particularly welcome. Whilst the examples above, for the purposes of exposition, refer primarily to North America, we invite papers on science-fiction emanating from any geographical territory.

Technology and the societal paradigm

On the subject of technology, how have writers linked science, experimentation or techniques with self-identity, sexuality, social organisation, nationhood, or economic models, from socialist utopias to post-scarcity or reputation-based economies? What might be the material history of science-fiction artefacts? Papers that address these issues without explicitly engaging in critical race theory or gender studies are also very welcome. Papers may be disciplinary or multidisciplinary.

Science-fiction narratives typically imagine the enhanced performance of machines or bodies, including superpowers, by extrapolating from existing technological innovations over the progress of the centuries, such as communication over distance and manned flight in the nineteenth century, to cybernetics and space flight in the twentieth. In a word, science-fiction is anchored in history. Furthermore, it is common in science-fiction stories to discover that scientific and/or technological discoveries stem from societal and political changes, or at least that they are symmetrical. The texts and visual explorations of science-fiction posit technology as a powerful force driving the socio-political order, transforming bodies and the natural world, hybridizing the organic and the inorganic, blurring the boundaries between the individual and the collective, and so on. In so doing, science-fiction gives material form to theories of progress and modernity born of industrial and post-industrial societies — as exemplified by the early Soviet science-fiction — through dystopian scenarios, and by questioning our social use of technology today (for example, in the TV series Black Mirror). Papers are invited that address the historical context that produced specific narratives, such as the post-war periods, the cold war, the war on terror, the digital age, Brexit, etc. and their potential self-fulfilling outcomes, to the extent that fictional models can have a real impact on contemporary scientific research. They may also examine the influence of national traditions (such as Franco-British exchanges in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), and the growing importance of transmediality across national frontiers, such as the film adaptations of comics, mangas or graphic novels, for example.

More info and Programme:

Scientific Committee:
Simon Bréan (Université Paris Sorbonne), Paul Edwards (MFO, CNRS/LARCA, Université Paris Diderot), Elodie Grossi (MFO, UVSQ), Thomas Lacroix (MFO,CNRS), Iwan Morus (Aberystwyth University), Vivien Prigent (MFO, CNRS), Amanda Rees (University of York), Marie Thébaud-Sorger (MFO, CNRS)