The recent rise of the interdisciplinary subfield of “Energy Humanities” as a prominent critical endeavour has seen an efflorescence of academic and cultural production from around the world focussing on the crucial topic of energy resources. A major spur for this work is, of course, the pervasive anxiety of late environmentalism in the face of anthropogenic climate change, a phenomenon in which energy use plays a central role: as both cause and possible solution. A variety of critical thinking around past, present, and future energy scenarios is motivated by what has been called the contemporary “energy trilemma”: how to balance energy security, equality, and sustainability on a world – and indeed planetary – scale? This question starkly confronts humans as we seek to configure a means to a less environmentally precarious future. The trilemma is further stressed by the contradiction between a seemingly inexorable rise in global demand and the fact that the world-system remains stubbornly beholden to a toxic carbon economy. As post-oil culture either mourns or celebrates the passing of cheap and easy oil it speculates on the elevation of its potential alternatives. Despite the unprecedented degree of consensus over the findings and pronouncements of climate science and despite an abundance of technological innovations, engineering skill and infrastructural promise, we still find ourselves at somewhat of a general impasse preventing transition to another, “cleaner” energy regime.
So what chance cultural production? What role does Humanities scholarship play, in breaking what has been called the techno-social-lock-in of oil-driven modernity? How preposterous is it to ask how cultural work can “save the future”? In fact Humanities scholars have been contributing in novel ways to the issues and concerns around energy for some time. An insistence on energy forms and their related infrastructures as social phenomena has sparked new research exploring the long – and sometimes unconscious or under-determined – inter-relation between energy and culture, registering in literature, visual art, film and media, philosophy, performance, design and many other fields. As well as asking fundamental questions of the Humanities’ responsibility and relation to crisis-ridden issues of power, politics, and the environment, this work is also asking fundamental questions of critical practice, genre, form and periodization.
The genres of science fiction (SF) and the fantastic have considerable salience here. Given the future-orientation of energic concerns as a significant strand in the Energy Humanities’ trajectory, we should expect work in the speculative mode to feature strongly. Novel systems and radical visions proliferate in SF/F, offering futures of resource scarcity and eco-apocalypse or, alternatively, of “free” and “abundant” energy forms; alternative and even “inconceivable” fuel supplies. Fantastic, desirable and “impossible” forms of mobility are presented in countless examples of “alien” infrastructures or post-human, after-earth scenarios of dwelling, moving, producing and consuming. Questions and opportunities proliferate throughout SF/F as to how we might envisage an alternative energy world; model a post-oil scenario; employ a utopian or dystopian vision of the future to orient and overcome the present lock-in. Yet they remain somewhat embedded within critical outlooks that still tend to regard energy and power resources as background features at best. Work already begun in this evolving area has insisted that sf is the cultural genre best placed to realize, communicate, and extrapolate the issues and concerns of the Energy Humanities in innovative and exciting ways. An alternative energy imaginary – involving both “powered-up” and “powered-down” visions – is prolific across the histories and genres of SF/F. It only awaits critical extraction and empowerment. This call for papers seeks essays that will deepen and heighten this engagement.
Topics for submission may include, but are not limited to:
- SF/F and petroculture: visions of enduring petroworlds, peak and post-oil imaginaries in literature, television, cinema, and art
- Energy Utopias / Dystopias
- Theoretical readings of SF/F as an energy-bound genre
- Past and present energy resources as SF/Fantasy (fossil fictions of surplus and/or “magic” sources and solutions / electro-SF/F / thermodynamics / magnetism)
- Narrating / Narratives of “Low-Carbon” living and/or “Sustainability” in SF/F
- SF and “Renewables”: solar/wind/hydro/bio/geothermal readings
- SF and extractivism
- History of fuel / power / energy in SF/F’s historical registrations of energy use / forms / infrastructures / machines
- Political / ecocritical theories/readings of SF/F as a means to system change/ model climate change scenarios
- Nuclear SF/F
- ‘Monstrous’ and/or alien and/or “magic” energy systems
- SF and alternative dwelling / design
- Post-autopia? Mobilities of the far future – transport infrastructures / travel / imagining new affective “energic” embodiments
- Energy Retrofutures and Counterfactuals
- SF media / digital paradigms related to the energy crisis.
- Science / Technologies of Energy in SF
Research articles should be approximately 8000 words in length, including references and a short bibliography. Submissions in languages other than English are welcome. Submissions should comprise of:
• Abstract (250 words)
• Full-length article (8000 words)
• Author information (short biographical statement of 200 words)
The deadline for submission is 1st July 2016.
The special collection, edited by Dr Graeme Macdonald and Dr Caroline Edwards is to be published in the Open Library of Humanities (ISSN 2056-6700). The OLH is an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded open-access journal with a strong emphasis on quality peer review and a prestigious academic steering board. Unlike some open-access publications, the OLH has no author-facing charges and is instead financially supported by an international consortium of libraries.
Submissions should be made online at: https://submit.openlibhums.org/ in accordance with the author guidelines and clearly marking the entry as [“POWERING THE FUTURE,” SPECIAL COLLECTION]. Submissions will then undergo a double-blind peer-review process. Authors will be notified of the outcome as soon as reports are received.
To learn more about the Open Library of Humanities please visit https://www.openlibhums.org/
Featured image by James Vaughan under a CC BY-NC-SA license.