Speculating Futures

Speculating Futures looks at past speculative narratives, like those of Ursula K. Le Guin, and past attempts at creating technological utopia, like Chile's Cybersyn. These readings examine the shortcomings that prevented these visions from being fully realized and how they may have been limited or exclusionary. These texts also tie these visions to the contemporary issues/present dystopias that need to be addressed in subsequent utopian imaginaries. To paraphrase Gibson, "Utopia and dystopia are here, they're just unevenly distributed." Feeling like there's a future is vital for moving through the present, so we'll also envision our own utopian futures to work towards.

This syllabus was first launched in December 2016 for The New Inquiry's Science/Fiction issue. It will probably never be complete; it's always open to suggestions. If you're familiar with GitHub, please don't hesitate to submit a pull request; if not, feel free to send suggestions to me on Twitter (@frnsys).

For additional readings see the text version of this syllabus.

NB: Beyond session 1, these sessions aren't in a particular order. There's so much overlap and interaction between these topics that you can jump around as much as you want; the "session" structure is more of a loose guide. Reading "out of order" could lead to interesting connections~

Session 1

What do we have to look forward to?

Neon sign from a WeWork. Source.

Session 2

The Illusive Utopia:
Cultural Hegemony & Ideology

Viktoria Modesta, self-described "Bionik Woman". Source, originally from the artist's Instagram.

Session 3

Gender & Sexuality

Panning for gold in the Congo. Photo by Marcus Bleasdale for National Geographic. Source.
Some consoles from Chile's Cybersyn. Source.

Session 5

The Visible Hand:
Economies & Infrastructure

An industrial robot arm. Source.

Session 6

Synthetic Freedom:
The Post-Work Society

A 3D printer. Source.

Session 7

A Sense of Belonging:
The State, Violence, & Property

Chinese postcard. Source.

Session 8

We Aren't the World:
Postwestern Society & Race

Campaign for a fictional artificial heart, by Chantal Ramzy. Source.
Tahrir Square, February 2011. Photo by Jonathan Rashad. Source.
"5:45 to Santa Monica: now boarding!" by cienias, (Compton overlooking downtown LA). Source.

Session 11

All We Have:
Environment & Ecology

The following were taken from Allison Burtch's Critical Theory of Technology:

The following were taken from Chris Novello's Computer Utopias:

The following were taken from Matthew Hockenberry's Supply Studies Syllabus:

This reading list was compiled by Francis Tseng (Public Science).