Science Fiction, Technoculture Studies Take Off

New program will examine literature, film and implications of a growing technological landscape


UC Riverside will launch a program in science fiction and technoculture studies this fall.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Going where few universities have gone before, the University of California, Riverside will launch a Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies (SFTS) program this fall.

It is a logical extension of humanities research at UCR, given the presence of the renowned Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, the largest publicly accessible collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and utopian literature in the world, said Stephen Cullenberg, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS).

“We are delighted to announce the debut of the new Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies (SFTS) program,” said Cullenberg, adding that the program will explore links between science fiction studies, science and technology studies, and technoculture studies.

“Like other science and technology studies programs around the country and the world, this program will examine the histories and cultures of science, technology and medicine to understand the role that culture plays in the production of science and how changes in science and technology have shaped culture,” the dean said. Alluding to the SFTS mission statement, he noted that the UCR program “also uniquely emphasizes the role of popular culture and the genre of science fiction in particular in mediating public understandings of science, serving as an imaginative testing ground for technological innovation, and articulating hopes and anxieties regarding technocultural change.”

The SFTS program initially will offer a designated emphasis at the Ph.D. level, with an undergraduate minor to be added soon.

Over the past several decades, science fiction has moved from being a somewhat marginal genre to a major form of commentary on our increasingly technological world, said Rob Latham, professor of English and a senior editor of the journal Science Fiction Studies.

“UCR’s new SFTS program will give our students the tools to grapple not only with significant works of popular literature, film, and other media but also with the ethical and sociological implications of the technological landscape they inhabit, which science fiction is uniquely suited to address,” he explained. “It’s only appropriate that UCR should be the venue for this program, given the preeminence of the library’s Eaton Science Fiction Collection as the world’s largest archive of materials in the field.”

The program moves beyond the study of science fiction as a literary genre, “situating it within a longer cultural history of technological and scientific development in which the genre has played a central but often unacknowledged role,” said Sherryl Vint, professor of English and convener of the Cultures of Science Working Group, sponsored by the UC Humanities Research Institute. This multi-campus group of UC faculty promotes collaboration between those who study the social and economic implications of contemporary science and those who study their representations in cultural forms.

“Conflations of science and the science fiction imagination define moments of intense technological change, such as the Space Race or the Human Genome Mapping Project,” she added. “Recently, industry has begun to pay attention to how this science fiction imaginary can marshal resources – material and intellectual – for technological innovation. Our program will build links between the cultural study of science in other disciplines such as sociology and history, enabling our students to understand and intervene in these ongoing exchanges among research, policy and popular culture.”

Program Complements Renowned Collection

Planning for the science fiction studies program began in 2007 when Cullenberg decided that the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences should have an academic unit to complement the Eaton Collection. Latham, a literary scholar of science fiction and technoculture studies, joined the UCR faculty a year later. He was followed in 2010 by Nalo Hopkinson, an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, and in 2012 by science fiction media studies scholar Vint.

Cullenberg said this cluster of faculty complements existing science fiction and technoculture studies strengths among CHASS faculty in a range of departments, including anthropology, comparative literature, creative writing, English, ethnic studies, history, media and cultural studies, philosophy, theater, and women’s studies.

robots in 3D glasses

The Eaton Collection and the conference it hosts attract scholars from around the world.

The Eaton Collection, which numbers more than 300,000 items, is housed in the Tomás Rivera Library, where it is visited by scholars from around the world. With the arrival of University Librarian Steven Mandeville-Gamble in March, the collection has begun acquiring works in the history of science.

“Science fiction is the engine of myth-making for technological societies,” Mandeville-Gamble said. “It allows those societies to explore the hopes, fears, and aspirations around how new technologies transform the world.  UC Riverside, with its traditional strengths in science and science fiction, is poised to open a world of inquiry to its students by bringing these strengths together in this new program.”

Melissa Conway, head of Special Collections & Archives of the UCR Libraries, said she is delighted by the launch of an academic program that will encourage young scholars to make use of the Eaton Collection.

“I have always found the interaction between science and science fiction fascinating,” Conway said.  “In my own lifetime, I have seen things that existed only in the imagination of science fiction writers become commonplace — from the moon landing to genetic engineering, the Internet and smartphones. As Jules Verne said, ‘Anything one person can imagine, other people can make real.’  Eaton’s comprehensive collection — ranging from the proto-science fiction of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ to the latest science fiction published  — is the perfect resource for exploring the pivotal but too-often-overlooked role that science fiction has played, and will continue to play, in technological and scientific breakthroughs.”

Originating with the personal library of Dr. J. Lloyd Eaton, an Oakland, Calif., physician and book collector, the collection’s holdings range from the 1517 edition of Thomas More’s “Utopia” to a rare first edition of the science fiction classic “The Time Machine,” by H.G. Wells. Among its archival collections are the papers of science fiction authors Richard Adams, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Michael Cassutt, Robert L. Forward and Anne McCaffrey.

As part of its scholarly mission, the Eaton Collection began hosting an Eaton Conference in 1979, an event that has attracted a number of famous writers, including Ray Bradbury, Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison and Frederik Pohl.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Rob Latham

Sherryl Vint

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