Chris Blattman

Is this the best political science syllabus ever?

Jake Bowers at UIUC teaches a course on political science and science fiction, called “Future Politics”:

How can imagining the future help us understand the present? How does considering the future help us think critically about politics today? In this course we will read social science and political philosophy together with science fiction in an attempt to enhance the political, social and economic imagination of the social sciences.

The future hopes and imaginings of past political thinkers do not include either enough detail or enough information about our rapidly changing technological, social, political, and economic landscape to provide us with enough practice to confidently confront the future as citizens as it happens to us. Science fiction allows us a much more detailed view of life in alternative futures, and the writers that we choose to read here tend to think seriously and logically about how current cutting edge technology might have social and political ramifications

The readings are terrific.

I like science fiction best when it is basically doing social science: reimagining society if you relax this constraint or that assumption.

72 Responses

  1. The Culture in Iain M Banks’s novels is an excellent fantasy of what we wish UNDP + US Marine Corp could act like, complete with fantastic agonising over what is the best / most ethical course of action. (With the exception of non-intervention which is never considered, I guess since that would make a pretty boring novel.)

  2. Maybe another reference could be added about Banks and the Culture:
    Yannick Rumpala, Artificial intelligences and political organization: an exploration based on the science fiction work of Iain M. Banks, Technology in Society, Volume 34, Issue 1, 2012, Artificial intelligences and political organization: an exploration based on the science fiction work of Iain M. Banks », Technology in Society, Volume 34, Issue 1, 2012

  3. Chris – Amazing find. This is absolutely brilliant. Glad to see ‘The Dispossessed’ is on the list, as Le Guin should really be required reading for development economists. Just to be a total geek, I’d add Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars to this list – the political machinations of the ‘First Settler’ scientists really highlights a lot of the potential ills of a benevolent dictatorship ruled by quarreling technocrats.

    Re: social science fiction (social speculative fiction) – preach.

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