On PhDs, rejections, and pathways

On PhDs, rejections, and pathways

This past six months, one of the most rewarding things has been slowly putting together CoFUTURES, inviting in fellows with whom I will be building something crazy cool over the next years, and  hopefully changing the world a bit for the better in the process. Let me put it this way: I feel really lucky that the project got the people it did. These are people exceptional in every way, who are in successful careers of their own in different disciplines and contexts but who have nonetheless decided to think together possible futures for the world, some even relocating to Oslo (which, beautiful though it always is no matter what the season, can really test one’s resilience with the cold and dark in winters if you come from the warmer world). With our weekly meetings and movies, and the passion of the discussions all around, even if temporarily all we can do is zoom, I can already tell that this is going to be an amazing experience. And then there will also be more people, which I am really excited about, so that in a year or two the dozen might double, all engaged in rethinking the whole world and its speculative dimensions from the ground up. Fingers crossed for that. I am truly grateful for this experience.

This past six months, one of the saddest things I have experienced in the same process of hiring PhD fellows is saying no to some of the most brilliant candidates with excellent proposals I have come across. With the hundreds of candidates who have applied for just the four advertised positions, these things are bound to be extremely hard decisions. Sometimes I didn’t quite know what to tell such exceptional candidates except wishing them good luck for the future even as I wished silently that there weren’t one position but two or three or half a dozen more, and we could all be one crazy bunch thinking working doing things together. Some people had projects that didn’t fit into the exact categories I had in mind, others simply because someone else edged them out a bit on experience. There were many astounding applicants who already had PhDs and were interested in pursuing a second, and I wish that were possible too.

Both these things remind me of two different times of my life connected to PhD positions. A rejection and an acceptance. The first was a rejection too back in the day exactly like the ones we have had to hand out now, from the  Commonwealth UK doctoral fellowships, where I was the sole India nominee for my field that year. I wanted to do a PhD at Liverpool, because of course. It hurt like a ton of bricks. No other way to describe it. I was a 22 year old after all. I couldn’t apply for US universities, since all those applications and the GRE drill cost quite a lot of money I couldn’t afford and a bill I did not want to saddle my parents with, nor did I want to spend money on something where the returns weren’t guaranteed.

I spent the next two and a half years doing an MPhil (a second masters), working briefly as a research assistant, and teaching. In those two years I also spent most of my time at the library and at home pretty much reading through everything I found theoretically, historically, or philosophically interesting, a quest that begin during my first masters (I bunked almost all my classes to read on my own instead), but the second masters and its flexibility gave me more time. Those reading lists went all the way from Plato to Derrida to Modernist art theory to Subaltern Studies, and all the journals and books I could find, get, or download from all kinds of sources. I was pretty good at that downloading too – so much so that a friend of mine cited me in her thesis acknowledgements as a kind of master pirate, which I still think of as a pretty cool thing. There was no money to get it all at the rate I read or wanted to read or could get from the library, even though I probably spent 80% of my income on books, so much that my friends joked that some publishers’ turnovers probably depended on me, and my dad once asked, jokingly, how much a book cost per page (it was a slim book that I had had to import and it cost half my monthly salary then). Academic piracy is after all still the reality of most of the world, even now. There’s no money for fancy research in most of the world. Before the Open-Access movement there wasn’t much of open research either. While the 20th century, including structuralism, postmodernism, postcolonial studies and subaltern studies had taken up a lot of my masters, now it was mostly a lot of older stuff mixed with a lot of absolutely current 21st century stuff. There was a lot of 18th and 19th century in my reading, because the library had a lot of those, and my MPhil courses took me in that direction. Vico. A lot of Spinoza and everything around Spinoza for a while. Kant ate up way too much time but it was worth it. A whole bunch of time on the Upanishads and several strands of Indian philosophy. Media studies. And a ridiculous amount of reading on modern drama too, oddly enough, Jerzy Grotowski, Augusto Boal, and Badal Sircar and what not, and I scripted two complete science fiction plays (which will never see the light of day). I remember spending a fortnight reading everything on CTheory for the sole reason it was open-access and seemed really cool. Trawling through journals in JSTOR or Project Muse for hours and hours on poor, slow internet in sweltering heat in the college computer rooms where the air-conditioner seemed to be just for show. I even ended up writing a thesis on degeneration and eugenics and early 20th century science fiction, which got an A and gave me an MPhil distinction and one of my first journal articles, but that’s another thing altogether. When I finally left India after a brief return to teach for a year after my PhD, I donated all my notes and printouts, things I had collected etc over 7 years of college life to my old college Ramjas department library. It was in 50 volumes or so, thick hardbound A4 books, but I am not really sure of the number anymore. There were books too, numbering in thousands, that I wanted to donate, but it could not be arranged before I left.

I was reading everything and all the time I had was spent on it. I don’t believe all that reading has ever set in or is likely to. The support I had from my teachers at Delhi University and my colleagues at St. Stephen’s was extraordinary to say the least. They indulged me is how I see it now. I think to a certain extent my students and fellow-learners at Stephen’s had to suffer through a little of all that reading too as things blended in my lectures. Hopefully they didn’t suffer much, given that I have kept in touch with many of them, but you never know when your students are just being polite and indulgent either. And I learnt a lot from them too. I also had the best mentor (may he be at peace), who basically gave me a ton of books and spent many late afternoons discussing Frankfurt School, Heidegger, Husserl, and Gadamar, as well as Foucault, Derrida, and the postmodernist bunch with me over cups of over-flavoured tea. He would sneak off to smoke a cigarette on the smoke-free campus, and ultimately he died from his smoking and drinking, but he almost quit smoking the year I worked because I couldn’t stand cigarettes and used to buy him nicotine gum. But Dr. Ashish Roy is not someone I would like to discuss now, and in any case I don’t think I am ready even now to describe the complicated nature of our difficult friendship. Every one of his students and friends has a story, and others closer to him have written a lot more. This one by Paromita Patranobish is especially beautiful.

And then, about two years later, I got accepted in a PhD programme, which was not only a fully-funded, but I could also work on science fiction: what I had prepared for four years by then. I packed my bags for the cold, dark, north which I also now call home, and I arrived smack in the middle of winter less than a week after my 25th birthday. The digression and reading helped me think through the many problems, and I do think I was more ready as a 25 year old than a 22 year old. Ten years later, here it all is, and it is what it is. But the one thing that kept me going in those two years after that ton of bricks, and continue on also within academia, is something that my SF guru Andy Sawyer wrote to me on an email right after I shared the dissapointing news, for which I will remain ever thankful, which was that I shouldn’t give up on science fiction. I didn’t.

Those with the heartbreak now, don’t give up on science fiction. There are better worlds to be made, and they are in waiting.



For the last couple of months, Star Trek: Picard had been a Friday staple. It was bad to a mediocre first season with only a handful of good bits, but Picard is Picard and Trek is Trek so it does keep one going. Trek and its almost naive utopianism without utopia and the possibility of resistance to the dystopian modes of thinking that condition the everyday life, is like medicine. When one feels like one has nothing, is nothing, and life has no meaning or purpose, the promise of brighter better futures for all (the “all” is more important than the “I”) gets one over those foggy times when one can’t be sure of those possibilities.

Last time, when I hit a similar kind of a dystopian phase personally, I binged all seasons of TNG and DS9. It was also during the experience of a similar kind of a “lockdown” but it was back in the US. I didn’t go out for almost a month as well. It didn’t help that I was living in a big, empty, and atmospheric house on which memories, sadness, and mental illness hung in the air like a cloud. The landlord, who lived on the premises downstairs, had left the place to spend the season with his friends and family back in China. Everywhere in the house, amidst the general state of neglect and chaos, were memories of the landlord’s ex-wife, divorced many years ago. Wedding photos and smiling photos of her and them as a couple – even a photo and wedding card as a fridge magnet, her books and papers (he never said her name, but mentioned more than once that she was Chomsky’s student), food in the freezer that was from a different era but wasn’t eaten or thrown out because it belonged to her, and broken machines from a broken marriage. The best memories of his were 20 years old, though he was but in his 50s. He looked much older though as he was also a recovering paralytic, and spoke haltingly. Obsessiveness with the past is deadly both to oneself and those around, and it blocks you from seeing the future. He was an interesting man for sure, but he wasn’t a nice man. When I left the place, right after he returned from his vacation, we parted on bitter terms.

And then there was the emptiness all around. All the company I had was just two owls that were up on the roof. And I saw them rarely even if I heard them quite frequently. All the neighbours were absent as well, there was no University office to go to (had no key and no chance of getting one anytime soon), nobody I really knew in town, and in any case, there weren’t that many people. Or maybe they were but elsewhere. Southern California can be hostile if you don’t have a car. Places only become truly empty when you don’t have friends and family around. But I had my laptop and Trek.

I was surviving on a diet of raw ruccola and spinach leaves, orange juice, milk, and the occasionally boiled spaghetti with salt and ketchup. My supplies were left outside the house from day to day. But Trek kept it together. Because Trek, the best of it anyway, does that. So I binged.

I didn’t read or write a single page in that lockdown, even though I realised later my brain was writing volumes, just not on paper. The first time I stepped out of the house was on my birthday when a friend and client of my dad based in Arizona drove five hours to California to take me out. It was a kind act from a kind man. We saw the Watts Towers in LA, forged by one man, Sabato “Simon” Rodia, over 33 years(!). Rodia was a poor immigrant from Italy who had a day job as a construction and tile worker. The work is situated in a kind of an odd location, a place which shows clear signs of impoverishment. It certainly was not a Hollywoodesque dream, and it certainly was not easy to find due to confusing street signs. So when I saw the towers, they caught me off-guard, because I was not prepared to suddenly come face to face with such magnificence. I had only found it on Atlas Obscura looking for oddball things see in LA. Rodia constructed these towers out of bits and pieces of society’s trash: broken glass, throwaway wiring, broken pottery, ceramics, seashells and the like. He was an outsider, as much to society as to art, and the work showed the raw power and majesty of that outsider dream. That work wasn’t rule-bound. The work wasn’t even interested in the rules or trying to break rules. It made its own rules as only an outsider could have dreamt. It was the other side of the decay and chaos of the house I was in. It didn’t bury itself in the past. It turned it into a vision of the future. When I came out of those towers, I knew I had changed. Just on the other side of that month of depression came six ridiculously productive months, good and even great friendships new and old, and a burst of energy. The energy that hasn’t run out even in five years. And I know it won’t now.

Things were bad at a personal level then, which is not the case any more. Yet everything still seems like it’s falling apart. The situation in India, here in Norway, in the US. Situation everywhere. Family, friends. Friends and people everywhere losing jobs. Friends suffering from depression and unable to cope. Worried sleeplessness. I know there’s a lot to do, deadlines to meet and whatnot, but that’s not for now. Above everything else, this is a chance to see. To rethink. To become once again an outsider to comfort zones, to challenge thoughts and beliefs. To imagine an us instead of an I, ours instead of mine. Our future. Because keeping faith in the future is a continuing mission. Seeking out strange new worlds. Going where no one has gone before.


Three PhD positions + One Postdoc in Science Fiction & Contemporary Futurisms (CoFutures & Science Fictionality)

Three PhD positions + One Postdoc in Science Fiction & Contemporary Futurisms (CoFutures & Science Fictionality)

Three PhD positions and 1 Postdoc position is now available with CoFutures (ERC) and Science Fictionality (NFR): Chinese Science Fiction/Sinofuturism (PhD-ERC), Latin American Science Fiction/Latin@futurisms (PhD-ERC), Nordic and European Futurisms (PhD-NFR), and Museum Studies with an Environmental focus (Postdoc-NFR). All positions will be based at the Department of Culture Studies. Short proposals (3-5 pages) and other documents are requested by 30th April 2020, and the positions start in August 2020. Proposals should contain the basic project outline/proposal, methodology and theory, progress plan, and a brief bibliography, among other things. Full details, including link to the proposal template, are available on the advertisment pages below.


  1. Chinese SF and Sinofuturisms: https://www.jobbnorge.no/en/available-jobs/job/183134/doctoral-research-fellowship-on-contemporary-chinese-futurisms-and-chinese-science-fiction
  2. Latin American SF and Latin@Futurisms: https://www.jobbnorge.no/en/available-jobs/job/183138/doctoral-research-fellowship-on-contemporary-latin-american-futurisms-and-science-fiction
  3. Nordic and European Futurisms: https://www.jobbnorge.no/en/available-jobs/job/184793/doctoral-research-fellowship-science-fictionality

Environmental changes, demographic changes, and technological changes are the main focus for these positions.



Museum studies (or similar, preferably with curatorial experience in  the Nordic region) with an environmental humanities focus will be the main criterion for this position.

For Environmental Humanities focus at our department and the Faculty of Humanities, University of Oslo, see the pages of Oslo School of Environmental Humanities (OSEH).

More positions will be advertised later.



Since the advertisements were posted, I have received a number of queries already, some of them relevant, others less so. To respond to them in one go, here’s a quick FAQ below:

Q1: Do I need to work on Chinese for the Chinese SF position or can I work on Korea, Japan, X…?
A: You need to work on Chinese SF. Transnational perspectives on Chinese SF and comparative studies with SF from other regions are also welcome if these perspectives are in addition to untranslated Chinese language contemporary materials from China.
Q2: Do I need to work on Latin American SF for the Latin American SF position, or can I work on SF from anywhere such as Spanish SF or Portuguese SF or Anglophone SF?
A: You need to work on Latin American SF in Spanish and/or Portuguese. Comparative studies with SF from other parts of the world are welcome if these are in addition to the work on Latin American SF in Spanish and/or Portuguese. See also Q1 above.
Q3: Do I need to work on Nordic SF for the Nordic and European SF position, or can I work on SF from anywhere outside Europe or in the English Langauge?
A: You need to work on Nordic SF in any of the Nordic languages. The PhD position is a comparative one, so you must work on at least one Nordic language SF. The other SF may be any other major or minor European language except English. English or Anglophone SF  is not the focus of this position.
Q4: Do I need to be fluent in/know Chinese for the Chinese SF position
Do I need to be fluent in/know Spanish or Portuguese for the Latin American SF position
Do I need to be fluent in any of the Nordic Languages for the Nordic and European SF position?
A: Yes, you need to be fluent in the languages you are working on. Non-native users are most welcome and encouraged to apply if they have certified fluency.
Q5: Can I work on any European language for the European SF position?
A:  The comparison has to be either between SF from (a) two Nordic languages; OR (b) one Nordic language and one European language excluding English. You need at least one Nordic language. The other European language can be any language, but preference might be given to lesser internationally known traditions, for instance Eastern European SF traditions, or Welsh SF.
Q6: Do I need to work on literature?
A: Not at all. You can work on other materials, including film, TV, visual arts, video games and other interactive media. The focus is on contemporary materials. Even within literature for instance, you can focus on untranslated fandom materials, fan literature, online fandom communities etc. But you need to make an argument on how these are related to the core issues in CoFutures, including environmental change, demographic change, and/or technological change.
Q7: I don’t know Chinese or Spanish or Nordic or European Languages. Will there be more PhD positions?
A: Not at the moment. Further positions from our research networks might be advertised in the next years. Please follow our facebook page for updates (https://www.facebook.com/cofutures/).
Q8: I already have a PhD. Should I apply?
A: The likelihood of getting a PhD fellowship if this is your second PhD are quite slim.
Q9: Do I need a masters degree to apply for the PhD positions?
A: Yes. Unlike some other parts of the world, you can join UiO for a PhD only if you already have a master’s degree in hand at the time of your application. Please follow the instructions in the advertisement.
Q10: I already have a PhD. Can this be turned into a postdoc/research fellowship/research position instead?
A: No.
Q11: I already have a PhD and the postdoc position does not suit my specialization. Will you be advertising more postdoc positions with your project?
A: Yes, we will be advertising more postdoc positions. Like our facebook page for updates (https://www.facebook.com/cofutures/). However, these postdoc positions will not be on Latin American SF or Chinese SF.
Q12: I don’t have a PhD in Museum Studies. What do you mean by related disciplines?
A: Disciplines that have a close relation to museums, design, exhibition making, and curation processes. These can include disciplines such as Art History or Architecture.
Q13: I already have a PhD and I don’t qualify for your postdocs since I mainly work on other topics/languages/ regions/ anglophone materials. But your project is really relevant/interesting/etc. Is it possible to get a postdoc to work with your team?
A: Yes, there are other ways of getting a fully funded postdoctoral fellowship to work with our team. Depending on circumstances, we might announce these options in 2021.
Q14: Are there ways of staying updated with project developments?
A: Thank you for your interest! We will have seminars, workshops, conferences, author events, etc. Please like our facebook page for updates: https://www.facebook.com/cofutures/
Q15: Are there other positions in CoFutures that are not PhDs or Postdocs?
A: At the moment, no. If there are any positions at any point, those will be advertised through official channels, and updates will be posted on our facebook page.
Q16: Is there such a thing as Norwegian SF?
A: Oh this question! I used to face it all the time when I started working on Bangla language SF! And much as I replied then, I will say yes, there is, has been, and will be! And yes, there will be people working on that too in CoFutures. The goal of CoFutures is to think with marginal future visions, including Nordic ones since these have received less attention in the SF world internationally. To get a teaser from Norwegian SF, perhaps you might be interested in the Algernon archive, the most important fanzine in Norwegian SF history.
Q17: Why are you against Anglophone SF?
A: I grew up with and work on Anglophone SF myself, and support quite a lot of research in Anglophone materials in other capacities. We will work with Anglophone materials in CoFutures as well (quite a lot in fact). But the advertised positions focus on other regions and materials. And there is a lot more out there in the world that is not written in the English language, but available in English translation. Rachel S. Cordasco / SF in Translation does the whole SF world a favour with her work cataloging and in many cases reviewing all the SF in translation available. Check it out here.
If you are interested in learning more, this article of mine from 2013 might give you an idea about the origins of the CoFutures project.
Q18: Do I need to live Oslo for doing the PhD or can I live elsewhere?
A: Up to six months of fieldwork outside Oslo or Norway is permitted during the fieldwork period.
Q19: What do you mean by SF arts, community, or fandom work?
A: This means that ideally the candidate should have participated in SF community activities,  whether as writers/artists themselves, or as fans who have organized fandom events or exhibitions.
Q20: Will the deadlines be pushed due to the ongoing global pandemic?
A: As yet we have no indication that the deadlines for applications will need to be pushed due to the global pandemic. We will post on our Fb page if we have updates.

The list will be updated if I get more questions. Last updated Saturday, 28 March, 2020.

The UiO image featured is by GK von Skoddeheimen from Pixabay

Origins and Possible Futures

Origins and Possible Futures

There has been quite a firestorm about a new SAS airlines ad, which says “What’s Scandinavian?”, and answers it with “Absolutely nothing. Everything is copied.”[i] Then it goes into all kinds of things and ideas that are imported, even though those are considered “Scandinavian,” such as democracy from Greece, windmills from Persia etc. Much of the attack has been driven by the cultural Right and those with Right-leaning politics. But the person who showed it to me was struck that I was not at all impressed as someone who genuinely believes in the strength of multiculturalism. The long and short of it is that it is an airline ad, so it tries to sell the message that Scandinavian travellers travel, bring ideas home. Things can have their origins anywhere, but they are at home in Scandinavia.

The ad conflates genuine achievement that might have been invented in any part of the world, whether in Scandinavia or elsewhere, with the facile facts about origins of Swedish meatballs and Danish pastries. I live in Norway, and every single banana pack in the supermarket says where it was grown, every box of tea carries country of origin. I don’t think any Scandinavian would claim a banana or tea while enjoying it. The biggest visibility of China is in that tiny string of words in almost everything we use: “Made in China.” This is just how the world is. Perhaps every person who has some elementary civic education knows about democracy having one of its important origin points in Ancient Greece (Grecian democracy was undemocratic by today’s standards – and Norwegian democracy is probably one of the best in the world at present).[ii] But does that trivia tell us anything useful about democracy today? Technology-wise, I’m fairly certain that there are many technologies invented or innovated in the Scandinavian region, because that is true for every place. Technology and knowledge transfer is precisely what helps us grow as a species. I genuinely think the Danish LEGO is one of the greatest inventions of the modern age, since it trains in and accelerates modular thinking. Scale that up and one can turn to everything from everyday furniture from IKEA, the principles of programming, Minecraft, to millions of kids around the world who grow up with a spectacular method for problem solving and learning basic engineering skills (I want to go into games and education in another blog post soon, so won’t press the point here). But is LEGO Scandinavian culture? What would that even mean?

Not that there isn’t a genuine problem of conflation: people think yoga poses are Indian or spiritual or some such shit,[iii] for instance, and love or hate it for that reason,[iv] instead of going after Swedish turn of the century gym routines, where they originate. And many people think the Arabic numerals and the number system we use are Arabic and have something to do with Islam so shouldn’t be taught in schools.[v] The ad tells us that Scandinavia was brought here piece by piece – and makes no reference whatsoever for instance to the Sami populations. It often becomes necessary to question origins when those origins are tied to questions of violent nationalism. In wartime nationalism serves a different purpose, including promoting a mindset geared towards freedom, community values, and individuality. But only in peacetime can it be questioned enough to prevent war to begin with. Humanities especially and all its wings whether in academia or in any other field have to deal with this fact if they are to be objective and critical, which is why humanities is often the first target of governments when nationalism grows in peacetime. But one must question stupidity in all its forms, including replacing one centre with another. The ad expects us to be mind-blown by the trivia it digs up, couching it in provocative language of “What’s Scandinavian?” and saying “Absolutely nothing”, but the looseness of terms means we can just as easily say, “Everything.” And it would be equally pointless. The ad seeks to be provocative and succeeds, but it also pretends to be historical without an understanding of history, and thus fails.

Perhaps a much better question is: what allows/allowed the development of certain technologies and their transfer, rather than others, and, for the future, how can we learn and make better, faster, and smoother processes of technology and knowledge transfer that do not rely on epistemic or other violence? The first one takes us into the domain of historical enquiry, a pathway that is essentially turned towards the past as a mechanism for understanding the present. The other takes us in the domain of the future and speculation for working on strategies for the present, or, in CoFutures terms, pathways to possible presents. The two are not mutually exclusive, and they depend on each other, but the two are not to be conflated in terms of their goals. For the former, an enquiry into origins is often important, and invaluable. A historical enquiry can put things into perspective, including the conditions under which knowledge is produced, technology created, innovations made and so on. It can lead us to questions such as the treatment of the working classes, labour, slavery, capitalism etc. After all, modern day industrial production, whether technology or food, is built on top of exploitative structures, and a historical enquiry can indeed get us to the origins of these structures. There is also the clear question of disproportionality in innovation and in visibility of innovation, and the money to generate new technologies and to disseminate them is also tied to different kinds of exploitative structures. But then how far do we go with all of it? Which historical era or eras do these enquires lead to? What time? Whose time? Where does it begin? History is not metaphysics, but the quest for origins is a metaphysical one. Ultimately, it only reveals the origins and sources of the problem, and knowledge correction – filling in gaps in what we know about the past – is useful but only part of the solution.

The second one takes us towards a different track, where origin is the nightmare. The second seeks to go beyond those futile quests in order to find some other way of being. This other way of being is not ahistorical, but decidedly transhistorical – where scale is transformed so completely that we are no longer reliant on the limitations of ancestry, blood, or origin, to feel like we belong. The more flexible the scale the more the abundance. The other reason for the second is that if the problems we are facing are global, then the solutions must come from everywhere. If the world is burning no place, no country, no people can escape it. The rich might hold out longer and have greater capacities for survival, but it will eventually destroy everyone. That’s the nature of catastrophe and violence, including climate violence. Point of origin becomes irrelevant in this view. It doesn’t matter if windmills came from Persia – is the region today a primarily oil economy? Yes! And that’s a far more important issue to raise.

My partner is still amused at times by the fact that I love walking around the city so much, and spend so much time at kitchen, hardware, miscellaneous tools stores. I have tried to explain that it’s because these places give me a sense of human imagination, history, and ingenuity. The rolling pin or stone that is in every kitchen connects us across all lands to much of human history. A simple, smooth tool, purely mechanical, timeless. And while knowledge or technology may not save us – human ingenuity is often expressed through that which we make. That human ingenuity may save us yet.

[i] https://onemileatatime.com/controversial-scandinavian-airlines-ad/
[ii] The strength of democracy lies in the simple measure of flexibility: how much difference, dissent, and protest it can tolerate and still be a functioning civil society.
[iii] I use the term EMS (Eastern Mysticism Shit) to call the general tendency to attribute some kind of special mystic wisdom or spiritual values to the so-called East, whether that is seen as positive or negative, and no matter who ascribes these values. The “East” has no special mystical or spiritual knowledge to impart to the rest of the world, even if some of us would like to think so. It is anthropological garbage and a ridiculous way of ascribing difference.
[iv] https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/09/why-schools-are-banning-yoga/570904/
[v] https://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/56-percent-of-americans-dont-think-we-should-teach-arabic-numerals-in-school/
ST Picard, Republic Day, the values of Starfleet, and those left behind

ST Picard, Republic Day, the values of Starfleet, and those left behind

Today is 26th January. The Indian Republic Day. And I resume my blog in 2020. Before I get to the idea of what it means to be a republic, or indeed, what any of this means to me, I will turn to something that has been a key influence on my life. Star Trek: The Next Generation, and more specifically, Jean-Luc Picard.

Star Trek: Picard is now finally here with its global premiere. Patrick Stewart reprises his role of Jean-Luc Picard, now retired Starfleet Admiral. Picard is very much a show of its time, and the best few moments of an all too rapidly paced first episode are in the FNN interview scene where Picard does what Picard does best. Give a short, yet, strong speech about Starfleet’s core values.

Picard: “The Romulans asked for our help. And I believed we had a profound obligation to give it.”

Interviewer: “Many felt there were better uses for our resources than aiding the Federation’s oldest enemy.”

Picard: “Well fortunately the Federation chose to support the rescue effort.”

Interviewer: “Yes. Initially.”

Picard: “I have been known to be persuasive. But the Federation understood there were millions of lives at stake.”

Interviewer: “Romulan lives.”

Picard: “No. Lives.”

The interview continues. Picard mentions that the rescue effort’s historical analogy is not the Pyramids, but Dunkirk. And Picard tells us the real reason for leaving Starfleet: “Because it was no longer Starfleet! We withdrew. The galaxy was mourning, burying its dead, and Starfleet had slunk from its duties. The decision to call off the rescue, and to abandon those people we had sworn to save was not just dishonorable. It was downright criminal!” He then brings up Dunkirk again, berating the interviewer for her lack of historical knowledge, before his closure: “You are a stranger to history. You are a stranger to war. You just wave your hand, and, pfft, it all goes away. Well, it’s not so easy for those who died. And it was not so easy for those who were left behind.”

For those of us who happen to be migrants, or darker skinned, Dunkirk is a sour note in what should have been a great speech (and it perhaps is for many).[i] But Dunkirk has been in the news not that long ago, due to a grandiose Christopher Nolan film. Dunkirk in this Nolan imaginary is a moment that England, at the time of Brexit, global far-right and nationalist resurgence, can see as uniquely its own, a moment of its stellar heroism. Nolan was accused of whitewashing, raising “Englishness” and English-heroism when the many heroes of WWII narrative included the larger British Empire, which include the many Asians and Africans who were part of the Allied effort. [ii] Dunkirk the film is anti-Nazi in its historical sentiment, and profoundly English in its emotional landscape at the same time. Yet Dunkirk is not a story of Englishness or national exception. It wasn’t and shouldn’t be. It was the story of many multitudes of nations, other European, Asian, and African nations. But to see this one has to look outside the bubbles of nationalist space-time. As Churchill and his racism dictated policies that led to the devastation of the Bengal famine two years after the events of Dunkirk,[iii] soldiers of the “Empire” shed their blood fighting for the future of the planet, under whatever banner they could have had at the time. That Picard brings up Dunkirk is unsurprising. For those whose reference point is the film however, Picard’s reference to Dunkirk serves the opposite purpose. It recreates English exceptionalism in a narrative about the future. It endorses the English identity that stoked and continues to stoke its virulent anti-European, xenophobic, nationalist, sentiments.

But the reference to Dunkirk to me is not a sour note because of the film – although that contributes to it, but because Picard’s speech does something else – it also somehow sullies the very core of what is the best thing about Star Trek to someone who has been a Trekkie and a fan of Picard forever – the core values of Starfleet. Picard’s speech dismisses one example of human endeavour (one from ancient history and slavery) while using another form of human achievement as exemplary (one from modern history and the era of brutal colonialism). What is left behind in the former is the pyramids and the politics of glorified nostalgia, and Picard is right to dismiss it. What is left behind of the latter is nationalist ethnocentric exceptionalism, which has no place as an admirable time inside or outside the ST universe.

History is always more complicated. Look at who died, and who was left behind. Look at what is left behind.

Thus when Picard brings us to the question of Starfleet values, in what would be the perfect moment for the return of a long admired figure, all I had was the question: did Starfleet ever actually have those values to begin with? Indeed, Starfleet has been notoriously callous to the rights of other species, which has also been at the heart of some of the best Trek episodes. Picard’s speeches – the best of them, have been in defense of principles that Starfleet has mouthed in principle but been indifferent to in practice. The Prime Directive’s Vietnam War roots are well known. But the reason Star Trek has always been my show – and will continue to be – is something that is in spite of Star Trek perhaps. If on the one side there is Dunkirk, on the other there is the defense of an idea that makes Picard say Lives instead of differentiating between Romulan and Human or Federation lives. If Dunkirk is a political statement, so is this. At a time of geopolitical troubles, where it seems we are all too quick to dismiss some lives over others, or value some lives over others, it is the sole purpose of this statement to challenge any form of exceptionalism. And rightly so, for this exceptionalism is yet again (as it always has) leading to the new aggressive politics of oppression and violence from one corner of the globe to another. One ethnicity over another, one nation over another, one religion over another, one gender over another. The ostensible core ideals of Starfleet, howsoever they may perform, are an attack on this politics. It is also the one that is at the heart of Picard’s first appearance in the Star Trek universe in TNG, and why Picard remains “my captain” and has served as an inspiration for all my life. It’s a form of possible politics, where we are not perfect but where we must always strive to be better than we are, a quest without an endpoint. A form of politics that is needed more than ever at a time when the planet is burning and these exceptionalisms take increasingly more efficient genocidal forms. And these genocides are based on a politics of nostalgia enmeshed in the logic of technocapitalism. We chain many possible futures with the ghosts of pasts. Because, like the mythos of Dunkirk, the empire never ends. Historical details and history are profoundly important. But we must not elevate a politics of nostalgia and instead look upon history as the record of us that is consistently necessary and shameful, as the artefact whose mistakes we must consciously grow beyond.

And this brings us to the Republic Day, 26th January, to the idea of India. To many, the idea of India is always under attack by outside forces as often as by internal ones. But the events of the recent past, countrywide protests seem to have made our fissures and unities visible around the world yet again. I have grown up with this. With the politics of unities, diversities, hatreds, and reconciliations. All descendants of the partition people – the refugees – in the subcontinent have. The politics of nostalgia for another time, before “we” lost our lands and lives, our homes and livelihoods, before the lines between us and them were clearly drawn for the first time shaping the experience of every one of us in the whole subcontinent. But for the partition people our home is never one we can envision ever returning to. Permanent refugees in the world locked in the traumatic birth of nations. Or one might just as easily call it the xenophobic geno/xeno-cidal moment where we decided that our identity was to be imprisoned in the confines of whatever identity our ancestors imprinted on us as that which would be forever ours, for generations, and many generations, to the end of whatever time we could imagine. The exact politics that shapes us to this day.

Like any such national celebration, the Republic Day also celebrates a foundational moment. It is a moment of pride, of independence, of becoming a nation, it is a moment of celebrating the sacrifices of those who came before us. It is also a profoundly nostalgic moment for the absolute beauty of our constitution and the rules, rights, and duties, to which we are bound. Yet the truth is that the Constitution of India is as much an open document as any, it can be changed, amended, and transformed, as time progresses. It is at the mercy of time, and its values and principles are not absolute, but temporary, and we who are the citizens that are bound by it are also the agents of its change. Our populist politics may determine what changes happen to the constitution, including changes that may be profoundly against any idea of peace and happiness and the healthy coexistence of all people that live on a patch of land. When we thus celebrate the Republic Day, and the constitution of India, we are celebrating an interim document. And perhaps we must defend it again and again, its best values, just as we defend the values of Starfleet, and raise it as a slogan and as mantra, but that’s not where we can stop. Our ideas of coexistence must exist beyond the constitution – we must shape the constitution to accommodate more realms of the possible rather than letting the constitution alone determine our possibles. But before we can imagine or make this future constitution, we must shape our politics towards a future that is not based on nostalgia or purity or nationalism. Unhappy is the land that needs a hero. Brecht wrote these lines sandwiched between the Nazis and Hiroshima. Unless we can see the need to think beyond heroes and heroism (even if the hero is a Picard), beyond the exceptionals to the everyday, whether pyramids or Dunkirk or republics or independence or nations or soldiers or wars, can we ever get there?

I am not sure all this makes any sense to anyone other than me, and this is a personal blog after all. And it is perhaps an all too simple position. It is the kind of position one sees from Don Quixote when he sees the chained criminals and sets them free. Quixote simply believes that it is his duty is to get rid of oppression. That duty extends to one and all, and it does not matter if the oppressed are criminals. In our troubled times it seems to be a ridiculous perspective. And perhaps the most necessary one.

[i] Some of Picard’s best speeches are defenses of the rights of other beings, including Data (“The Measure of a Man”), and this particular speech echoes the famous one from Star Trek: Insurrection (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cXBy1SbPgk)
[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/01/indian-african-dunkirk-history-whitewash-attitudes
[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churchill%27s_Secret_War
Begumpura by Ravidas (aka the first Indian utopia)

Begumpura by Ravidas (aka the first Indian utopia)

This came up during the desert lab project, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a place where the original and the translation could be seen alongside each other. Begumpura by the Bhakti poet Sant Ravidas (c.1450 – c.1520)  is not the first utopia from India (that belongs to the mythological realm), but it can certainly be considered one of the first speculative utopian places from the subcontinental imagination.

रविदास : बेगमपुरा   /  /  Ravidas : Begumpura

बेगम पुरा सहर को नाउ।।
दूखु अंदोहु नहीं तिहि ठाउ।।
नां तसवीस खिराजु न मालु।।
खउफु न खता न तरसु जवालु।।1।।
अब मोहि खूब वतन गह पाई।।
ऊहां खैरि सदा मेरे भाई ।।1।। रहाउ।।
काइमु दाइमु सदा पातिसाही।।
दोम न सेम एक सो आही।।
आबादानु सदा मसहूर।।
ऊहां गनी बसहि मामूर।।2।।
तिउ तिउ सैल करहि जिउ भावै।।
महरम महल न को अटकावै।।
कहि रविदास खलास चमारा।।
जो हम सहरी सु मीतु हमारा।।3।। (पन्ना 345)
The regal realm with the sorrowless name:
they call it Begumpura, a place with no pain,
No taxes or cares, none owns property there,
no wrongdoing, worry, terror, or torture.
Oh my brother, I’ve come to take it as my own,
my distant home where everything is right.
That imperial kingdom is rich and secure,
where none are third or second – all are one;
They do this or that, they walk where they wish,
they stroll through fabled palaces unchallenged.
Oh, says Ravidas, a tanner now set free,
those who walk beside me are my friends.

Source for the original: https://www.punjabkesari.in/dharm/news/sri-guru-ravidas-jis-prakash-utsav-746842

Translation: Songs of the Saints of India, edited by Hawley and Juergensmeyer, page 32, sourced here: http://roundtableindia.co.in/lit-blogs/?p=1968

Doing Things with SF and Speculation

Doing Things with SF and Speculation

There is a perception that SF is about predicting the future. While that may be the case for some SF, far more common is SF that deals with trends, and buried in those trends, possibilities, while other SF is more in the nature of what-ifs and general speculation. SF thus may or may not be technological, although to maintain a semblance of difference from garden-variety fantasy it often has the veneer of the technoscientific as a distinguishing feature. I have discussed SF previously as a composite of technological futurism, epistemological futurism, and conditions of possibility, in other words that takes the future as a starting point for thinking about possible presents, but that description works only for a certain kind of SF, as all descriptions do. More specifically, that description of SF works for the kind of SF that I find interesting as a researcher, as this kind of SF helps me think through certain problems and questions I am dealing with.

This kind of SF has been seen as useful by any number of organizations, including think tanks and governments, who think that SF provides particularly fertile grounds for speculating about future societies and technologies. Both NASA and ESA have had numerous projects drawing upon SF.[1] Just a few months ago, newspapers widely reported the French Government recruiting SF writers for assistance in military strategy (the truth is a little more complex than that, but not by much).[2] There are any number of websites out there which focus on what SF got right and what it didn’t (or hasn’t yet) when it came to predictions about future technologies.[3] Within natural science domains, SF often turns up as a general thinking tool, allowing the kind of gee-whiz excitement about possible technologies and ideas that may or may not be feasible. In many cases, people and organizations also actively work towards making such ideas real, or at least exploring the possibilities of translating some ideas into reality.[4] A whole bunch of innovations literature has used SF to think with possibilities in technoscientific development. University centers such as the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University [5] and the Arthur C Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UC San Diego [6] have done an incredible job thinking with the science and science fiction model, dealing with a wide variety of imaginative responses to global problems such as climate change. Such responses have also spawned new tools and methodologies such as prototype fiction, coined by Intel’s Brian David Johnson, which encourage prototyping both ideas and effects of SFnal technologies that are within the realm of possibility.

Yet, when talking about SF, three main problems remain. First, how does one create a process for such speculative thinking that can be used by people with SF or non-SF interests, such that speculation itself is seen generally as a positive activity: an essential part of rather than dissociated from reality. This is not a problem unique to SF, it is a problem for other speculative genres such as fantasy or fairytale and folklore. But the problem is particularly acute when discussing SF, since folklore and fairytale at least have a certain cultural claim which SF lacks in most parts of the world. Second, how do we encourage speculation that is geared towards more positive possibilities. Much speculation today is dystopic, which is unsurprising given the state of the world, where climate change, demographic change, and technological change cause numerous anxieties about the future. but one of the advantages of speculation is that it can help us think past those mental and social blocks. As Samuel Delany put it in his Paris Review interview, “Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be—a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they—and all of us—have to be able to think about a world that works differently.”[7] Third, how do we ensure that those who most need it to think of possibilities use such tools and strategies effectively: the marginalized, the oppressed, and the suffering. By effective, I mean to say that these speculations are seen, heard, and taken seriously, and such speculations are not co-opted into technocratic or technofascistic views or co-opted into top-down managerial visions.

There are no easy answers to these, but luckily I can at least work on some of these problems in the next years. I also intend to investigate strategies used by others to address these same problems, and explore if some of these strategies can be scaled up or distributed when talking about the globe.



[1] For instance, check out this cool project Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction for Space Applications, edited by David Raitt (https://www.esa.int/esapub/br/br176/br176.pdf)

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-49044892

[3] Perhaps the most comprehensive source of such hits and misses is the technovelgy database: http://technovelgy.com/

[4] NANORA, the EU Nano Regions Alliance that focuses on nanotechnology, has done cool things with nanotech ideas in science fiction literature. http://www.nanora.eu/nano-dimension-science-fiction

[5] https://csi.asu.edu/

[6] http://imagination.ucsd.edu/index.html

[7] Delany, Samuel R. “The Art of Fiction No. 210.” Interview by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. The Paris Review, Issue 197, Summer 2011. https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6088/samuel-r-delany-the-art-of-fiction-no-210-samuel-r-delany.

Oslo School of Environmental Humanities: Opening Conference

Oslo School of Environmental Humanities: Opening Conference

So yesterday I was at “Nordic Environments,” the opening conference of the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities.

Oslo School of Environmental Humanities (OSEH)[i] is the Faculty of Humanities and UniOslo’s flagship 5 year research and education initiative for the environmental humanities (EnvHum). While OSEH has been in operation for nearly a year, under the leadership of director Ursula Muenster (Associate Professor at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages) and some of the coolest people at the Faculty of Humanities, UniOslo, the opening conference[ii] was a celebration of the different kinds of initiatives and dialogues that OSEH has facilitated or participated in both at the university level and the wider public level over this year, as well as a statement of its goals and projects over the next years. The conference was held at SALT,[iii] which was an unusual location for an academic conference for those outside Scandinavia, being a “nomadic art project”, sauna, and exhibition space. However, it fit well with the Norwegian celebration of nature, the environmental focus of OSEH and its desire to promote interdisciplinary knowledge production including the arts, as well as the general academic goal of increasing public participation and bidirectional knowledge transfer. OSEH has also been doing it with a number of cool events, such as their EnvHum lunchtime discussions (check out the OSEH webpages for more!), so in that sense having a venue outside the university space made sense.

Due to other commitments, I was unable to attend the post-lunch panel, but I did manage to attend the morning sessions as well as the full evening program. So what follows are some general and haphazard thoughts on the event, and some of my takeaways from the opening day.

* Heather Swanson’s keynote: this was an amazing keynote, not only because Swanson is an engaging speaker, but because the topic was “failure”, which is an increasingly relevant theme for our times. The failure ranges from the personal (managing precarity; reviewer two etc., themes that came up during the Q&A session as well), to the disciplinary (true “interdisciplinary” exchanges between humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences; having an actual impact on the state of affairs in the world etc.), to the academic-political (increasing corporatization of public sector institutions; failure to facilitate meaningful and progressive political change in these times of political crisis; balancing research responsibility with other kinds of political activity, balancing environmental, queer, and left activism, etc.). Swanson’s talk brilliantly and beautifully captured all these failures, and went beyond them.

There was one issue for me however and that was the notion of genre and breaking genre. But it was “more a comment than a question” so it was better to write it out than bring it up in the conference space. From my literary training standpoint, genres are always already broken. There is no such thing as a “pure” genre, and therefore breaking genre doesn’t make sense. This goes as much for an academic lecture as it does for academic writing, or self-presentation, or performance. It also brings up another issue, as visual anthropologist and my friend Moumita Sen puts it: there are many occasions where it makes no sense to subvert the subversion, because it only serves to bring us back to the status quo. This is particularly an issue when constant subversion becomes the norm to such an extent that the only way one can “subvert” is by being apolitical, or by being strongly against political correctness. In the last few years, we have seen some strong instances of “breaking genre,” such as dressing informally for an academic talk which have been nothing more than reinstatement of the status quo in different forms. Take as example Matt Taylor’s misogynist t-shirt which sparked quite a debate a few years ago – because on the one hand it did subvert the genre of serious academic talk, while reinforcing the general misogynistic problem within STEM and academia.[iv] At what point do we set the limits of subversion, at what point is breaking genre a valid exercise, and when does it become yet another capitalist way of marking the path of progress: innovation as the continuous breaking of genre? The question of failure can also lead one down the same path – what really constitutes a failure if it is a “productive failure” (after all, science and knowledge progress through failures), or if it is the seed of something else (particularly true of political revolutions, when we talk about the “failure” of Occupy or the Ukrainian Orange Revolution or the Arab Spring)?

Swanson did distance herself from the problems I raise here, especially during Q&A when she emphatically asserted that her objective to bring up “failure” was not a call to abandon political struggle, or academic work, or any of those things, nor was her call for productive failure a Silicon Valley-esque call for innovation. And I agree with her that they are not, but they are connected and the problems raised by using the same strategies towards progress and conservative ends are not easy to ignore.  This, and the problem of genre and breaking genre, are also at the heart of the CoFutures argument, so a lot of these are thoughts that came up due to my own preoccupations rather than Swanson’s talk alone, but I raise them to point to the richness of her talk and the concerns she brought up. I am not sure some of these contradictions can be resolved. I will just mention in context the epigraph by Nic Pizzolatto in Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland, which is on top of my tbr pile at the moment, that an answer isn’t the same thing as a solution.[v]

*Another question that Swanson raised was the point about “Environmental Humanities” as a problem term, and how “environment” serves as a boundary object that allows negotiations with other disciplines, while humanities serves to exclude interdisciplinary collaborations. Somehow, she argued, we are stuck with it, even though EnvHum should perhaps be called not- environment, and not-humanities. This was a fun idea to think with, because a lot of us have similar problems with the term science fiction.

*Speaking of SF, Muenster ended her introduction with a list of six powerful women who have transformed our way of thinking, and she included two people those of us in the SFF field are proud to think of as our own in some ways: Ursula Le Guin and Donna Haraway.[vi] SFF and EnvHum have never been far apart, and CoFutures will also focus on these connections, including eco-fiction, environmental literature, climate fiction, anthropocene fictions, etc. There is a lot to say and I will write about it at some other point, but it was really wonderful that she brought it up.

*Interventions: the evening programme is worth focusing on. Muenster and OSEH created a packed but extremely engaging programme with speakers from public organizations, artists, architects, and finally, a concert with Sami Joik artist Vassvik.[vii] In brief presentations, we learnt about GrowLab which stages urban interventions in the Oslo city space, marine creatures in the inner Oslo fjord, the popping and crackling sounds of oxygen escaping the slowly declining iceshelves of the Arctic from the Future North project, about Natur og Ungdom and the anti-oil drilling climate lawsuit brought about by children, youth, and others against the Norwegian government, a supremely tragicomic performance by Kristy Kross (dressed as a fish) about extinction adapted to “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, and a presentation of the weird Anthropocene Cookbook. The broad range of topics and presentations, with the common theme of anthropogenic climate change but focusing on it from a variety of lenses from legal perspectives to aesthetic concerns to overconsumption to neoliberal capitalism to settler colonialism, offered us a snapshot of academic, political, and artistic ways of strategizing for a common cause, and the ambition of OSEH to work across disciplines and initiate different kinds of discussions going forward. And the concert that brought it all to a close was out of this world.

Altogether, it was a perfect day. Many congratulations to the organizers and OSEH putting this amazing event together! I am really excited about the next years!


[i] https://www.hf.uio.no/english/research/strategic-research-areas/oseh/

[ii] https://www.hf.uio.no/english/research/strategic-research-areas/oseh/news-and-events/news/opening.html

[iii] https://www.salted.no/

[iv] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/13/why-women-in-science-are-annoyed-at-rosetta-mission-scientists-clothing

[v] https://www.amazon.com/dp/0765394324

[vi] https://people.ucsc.edu/~haraway/PilgrimAward.html

[vii] https://grappa.no/en/artist/vassvik/


The “Origins” of the CoFutures project

The “Origins” of the CoFutures project

CoFutures originates in the different strands of engagement with future fictions and science fiction that have emerged in the last couple of decades. These new future fictions are a response to the predominantly Anglophone, predominantly ethnic white, imaginaries of the future that have been common in future oriented fictions and science fiction. This limitation in the availability of possible futures can be seen in the works that are available internationally, in the more prominently highlighted non-fiction narratives about the future (including scenario, policy, and strategy documents), the theorizations of the future, and theories and criticism of future fictions more broadly. If postcolonial studies eroded the general sense of certainty about the qualities of canonical Euro-American literature, then it failed to go past its implicit valorizations of alternate canons based on the works produced in these formerly colonized locations. Genres such as science fiction, or fantasy, broadly, had to fight out their own battle on a pop cultural battlefield, on separate terms from the postcolonial battlefield. The postcolonial struggle was the academe reasserting its rights to determine what was to be studied and what qualified as high literature; the pop-cultural struggle was about the everyday, the fandoms, the communities: it was about the people who had grown up reading other people’s visions of the future over and again and wanted to see themselves in the futures they read.


One such battle was the Racefail ’091 which among other things highlighted the poor representation of POC voices in fandom communities, including producers, consumers, and critics. For me, sitting in India far from these debates, trying to write up a PhD proposal on studying Bangla science fiction or kalpavigyan written in the colonial period, postcolonial theory was one of the key entry points in the discussion, as it is for most Indians studying EngLit. While I had been planning my PhD project since 2006 on the same subject, it was really John Rieder’s already classic study Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction2 that gave me the perspective I was looking for. Rieder’s fantastic work did not include the colonized parts of the world, certainly not India, but it did make me wonder why that was so, given that the Indian history of future histories begins in the colonial period as well, and for much of the same reasons as highlighted by Rieder, only sometimes in the reverse. I learnt about Racefail in 2010, after I moved to Norway for my PhD, but I spent the next few years buried in archives and lit-crit. But fandom environments, including in Norway. were rapidly transforming in those years. By 2013-14, there were full blown crises, with Gamergate3 and Puppygate4 in the gaming industry and the SFF fandom communities respectively. What I call my first CoFutures essay (“Recentering Science Fiction And The Fantastic: What Would a Non-Anglocentric Understanding of Science Fiction and Fantasy Look Like?”, published in Strange Horizons in September 2013)5 came at the end of my PhD, just when these crises were completely taking over fandom discussions.


With the crises we have clarity, new assertions, and strength. Cixin Liu’s Hugo for The Three Body Problem in 2015, and N. K. Jemisin’s consecutive victories are the most easily visible signs of this strength. The process of naming that marks the edges of a new aesthetic formation has also already begun. New histories and new excavations of the past show the global origins of future fictions, while new strategies are being carved for the future from the problems of the present. This trend began with Afrofuturism to a large extent, but the work of a whole generation of scholars has highlighted the scope of the phenomena from one corner of the globe to the other, but especially in the context of the global South from South America to South East Asia. Creators have brought forth new strategies and coined new terms to represent different experiences of the future, such as in the Middle East with Fatima Al Qadiri and Sophia Al-Maria’s chrome-pastiche Gulf-futurism,6 or the possibilities for the future offered in Grace Dillon’s Indigenous futurism.7 There are other labels floating about in the recent years. Some of these are geographically inflected while others thematically oriented, such as Lawrence Lek’s Sinofuturism8 and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s Ricepunk.9 These changes also highlighted the strong Anglocentric (and to a certain extent Francocentric) biases of the producers and consumers when it came to recognizing future fictions in other languages and other geographical regions, for instance even within Europe, such as Eastern and Northern Europe. Rachel S. Cordasco’s brilliant project Speculative Fiction in Translation has done much to raise general awareness of these fictions from everywhere around the world, in many different languages.10


Not all developments have been positive, and I plan to discuss some of these in more detail at a later time.


CoFutures is the result of all these discussions. It is as much about the personal journey as an Indian working on things far away from home and about the different experiences that have shaped my own work, as it is about global fandom and academic debates on gender, ethnicity, Anglocentrism, translation, and other related topics. In the next few years, the project hopes to bring in numerous academics and creators, from writers to artists to games designers, to discuss better ways for envisioning the future. CoFutures is not a solo project. It is a community project: community is where it comes from, to which it contributes, to which it seeks to give back. This was the reason I wore my shiny Star Trek TNG combadge even to the ERC interview in Brussels, taking the risk that they wouldn’t fund me because of my refusal to dress “properly” for the interview. But perhaps they saw it for what it is: that CoFutures is about the community, the fandom, many possible futures, and more than anything else, hope. LLAP! ?

2 Rieder, John. Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2008.
7 Dillon, Grace. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction.  Arizona UP, 2012
10 https://www.sfintranslation.com/
Global Future Fictions and the CoFutures Project

Global Future Fictions and the CoFutures Project

I’m giving a talk at the University of Bergen on 24th October, which is the first post-ERC talk on the CoFutures idea. I have presented on the general theme of CoFutures several times before already, including in January at the Center for Advanced Study Oslo, and in Paris in February this year (CoFutures Comment #3). The difference here is that I am focusing on a part of the project I haven’t presented on before (WP2 Subproject 5).

“In this talk, Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay will present his ERC Starting Grant project “CoFutures: Pathways to Possible Presents” and its core ideas related to global future fictions, and how these fictions offer us ways of speculating, imagining, and in some cases even anticipating multiple possible futures by opening up the multiplicity of presents. He presents some of the broader discussions within the field of global future fictions and how these are distributed in the different parts of the CoFutures project, and how some of the fundamental steps of the CoFutures project invoke and combine ideas from different digital storytelling technologies and speculative design practices.”

More details here at the UiB website

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa