Science Fiction and Politics Syllabus

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Daniel Nexon posts the syllabus for his class, Science Fiction and Politics:

Authors writing in the Science Fiction or Speculative Fiction (SF) genre have long explored political themes — such as the rise and decline of empires, the impact of technological change on individual liberty, the nature of revolutionary struggles, the workings of totalitarianism, and the impact of socio-political collapse on humankind.

This seminar approaches SF as social-scientific, political-theoretic, and social-theoretic text. Subjects include the politics of contact, alterity, identity, and warfare. Readings include SF novels, as well as scholarly texts on politics and social science. Students are also expected to watch and discuss films and videos.

This is not a literature course. We do not explore (much) the emergence of SF, its conventions, or its history; we do not read literary criticism of SF or cognate genres. Instead, we approach SF as many of its authors intend: as an opportunity for ontological displacement and a landscape of the imaginary that allows us to contemplate contemporary socio-political concerns.

The list begins with these works:

Jutta Weldes, “Popular Culture, Science Fiction, and World Politics: Exploring Intertextual Relations,” in Weldes, ed. To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics, pp. 1-27.ONLINE

Iver B. Neumann and Daniel H. Nexon, “Introduction: Harry Potter and the Study of World Politics,” in Nexon and Neumann, eds. Harry Potter and International Relations, pp. 1-25.ONLINE

Star Trek: The Next Generation: “The Outcast” (Season 5, Episode 17)

Consider “The Outcast” from each of the four approaches discussed in Neumann and Nexon.

Daniel Drezner, Theories of International Politics and Zombies. (**If you need a refresher on IR theory, and want to see it applied to SF settings)
Edward James, Science Fiction in the 20th Century, pp. 12-53. ONLINE (**If you need historical background on SF as a genre)

The list goes on to include some works I’ve discussed before, namely Watchmen and Dune.

I’ve converted the original Word document into PDF format, if you’re interested.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)


  1. Toddy Cat says:

    “Popular Culture, Science Fiction, and World Politics: Exploring Intertextual Relations,”

    Boy doesn’t that sound like fun? Is there any subject that academics can’t make boring, PC, and dry as dust?

  2. Purpleslog says:

    After taking a science fiction class at UW-Madison in the 1980s, I stopped reading it for a year or so. The prof made me hate it. This is similar to the Russian drama/lit prof who turned me into a lifelong hater of Chekhov.

  3. T. Greer says:

    What i found most interesting was the books and TV series he chose to highlight. Here is the full list:

    Collins, The Hunger Games (book)

    Moore, Watchmen (graphic novel)

    Note: to be read with sections of Plato’s Republic, and with suggested readings being

    The Dark Knight (film)
    Joss Weedon, The Astonishing X Men Omnibus (comic serial) Alan Moore, V for Vendetta (graphic novel)

    Stross, Halting State (book)

    William Gibson, Neuromancer (book)

    To be read with sections on Schmidt’s political philosophy

    Battlestar Galatica (TV series)

    Ian Banks, Player of Games (book)

    With recommended readings being:

    Iain M. Banks, “Notes on the Culture”
    Iain M. Banks,Use of Weapons (and the rest of theCulture series)

    Ken MacLeod,Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light
    , and Engine City

    Robert Charles Wilson, Spin

    Avatar (Film)

    Flynn, Eifelheim (book)

    Miéville, Embassytown (book)

    Ashby, Vn (book)

    Recommended fiction: The many Ghost in the Shell anime (films and series)

    Hebert, Dune (book)

    To be read with sections of Machiavelli and Weber

    Le Guin, The Dispossessed (book)

    Stephenson, Anathem (book)

    So is this a good collection? Any great ‘political’ science fiction works that deserve to be on the list – and any of these that do not?

  4. Isegoria says:

    It’s hard to imagine a list of political SF without Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

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