The future just isn’t what it used to be. It is in a state of flux and changes along with the science it reflects, projects, and is informed by. Contemporary and near-future/developing technologies can dramatically influence individuals, communities, and societies in ways that even the most prescient science fiction writers didn’t see coming! Science opens up new possibilities and fears for the future and SF articulates them by imagining applications and consequences that not only furthers the development of real-world science but also restricts it by realising, if only fictionally/speculatively, new technological and scientific advances that humanity might be unable to control. Fictional narratives are not mere reflections of science and society but rather inseparable parts of the culture that produces and responds to it - and stories don’t have to be true in order to influence the way that people perceive reality.
The AHRC-funded project ‘Unsettling Scientific Stories: Expertise, Narrative, and Future Histories’ will focus on how people in different historical periods thought about and envisioned their futures over the course of the long, technological twentieth-century, which actually begins in 1887*, demonstrating how science and society are inextricably intertwined in these debates, with the existence of one dependent on the successful operation of the other. The project will map the ways in which constellations of social, cultural, political, economic, and moral interests and interactions shifted over the era in relation to imagined futures. It will foreground the importance of fiction, both as a method for analysing articulations between the social and the scientific, and as a means of accessing and understanding lay attitudes to arcane or academic debate.
Throughout this project fiction will be framed as a partner in the imagination and exploration of alternative futures and new ways of using fiction as an authentic and valuable mode of socio-historical analysis. Through the use of the methodologies of history of science, sociology, and cultural studies the Unsettling Scientific Stories project will develop new modes and strategies for understanding how contemporary orientations of our common future are configured.
The project is a collaborative AHRC-funded research project working across Aberystwyth University (co-PI Iwan R. Morus, RA Mat Paskins), the University of York (PI Amanda Rees, RA Sam Robinson), and Newcastle University (co-PI Lisa Garforth, RA Amy C. Chambers). The three strands of the project span across the timeframe (1887-2007) and each team will be producing two case studies that allow for a detailed exploration of the public understanding of science and the relationship between science and science fiction.