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Cover of Strange Economics collection

CRITICAL DESIGN FICTION

I was invited to write an afterword to this landmark collection of speculative fiction about economics. My afterword, 'Cockayne Blues,' explores science fiction as economics and economics as science fiction.

See also 'Automation' and 'Publications' for some of my critical design fiction.

Speculative fiction has often been treated as a tool to identify risks and opportunities and stimulate innovative design and policy. Proponents of “design fiction” or “deigetic prototyping” seek to extract fresh ideas from speculative fiction and implement them in the real world. Such approaches tend to discard precisely the aesthetic features which distinguish speculative fiction as a cultural mode. Unsurprisingly, their popularity is strongest outside the humanities, in areas such as innovation management and defence policy.

At the same time, the humanities have been overly cautious about the danger of instrumentalising the genre. Speculative fiction frequently invites its readers to think instrumentally about its embedded models and tools, and such invitations do not obscure its status as literature, but are rather precisely part of its operation as literature. When critics do celebrate speculative fiction's agency —  its power to estrange everyday reality — they often fail to address how ‘everyday reality’ is shaped by factors including race, class, gender, and geography.

So maybe it's time traditional scholarship gets joined by new critical practices: practices that are interventionist and generative, that illuminate the agency of speculative fiction by introducing new connections and new actors — commentaries, readers, authors, and texts — into speculative fiction’s established networks of actors ... all the while asking, "Whose everyday reality is being made strange, and who has the power to act on the knowledge this produces?"

By drawing on both design fiction and critical design, speculative fiction’s power to defamiliarise and disrupt can be reconciled with a more intersectional account of its textual reception amongst diverse readerships. This might help us to resist reductive instrumentalisation, while also resisting the separation of speculative fiction from its instrumentalities. And — who knows? — it might even change the world, which is, after all, the point.

Elsewhere:

Interview at The Adjacent Possible on economic science fiction.