Saturday, September 17, 2016

Climate Change Imaginaries? Examining Expectation Narratives in Cli-Fi Novels -- OFFICIAL LINK to a very important academic paper by Andrea Whiteley, Angie Chiang and Edna Einsiedel in CANADA

Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 2016,
Vol. 36(1) 28–37
© The Author(s) 2016

Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0270467615622845 Article


Special Issue: Science and Science Fiction - Volume II: Subjectivities

Climate Change Imaginaries? Examining Expectation Narratives in Cli-Fi Novels

by Andrea Whiteley, Angie Chiang and Edna Einsiedel

Andrea Whiteley is a PhD candidate and researcher in the department of Communication, Media and Film at the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on access to knowledge and the public good. Whiteley is in the Department of Communication, Media and Film, Faculty of Arts, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4.

Angie Chiang is a PhD candidate and sessional instructor in the department of Communication, Media and Film at the University of Calgary. Additionally, she is a freelancer working for various industries in film, television, and interactive in communications and marketing.

Edna Einsiedel is an emeritus professor in the department of Communication, Media and Film at the University of Calgary. Her extensive research career focused on technology assessment and the role of publics and stakeholders in public policy deliberations and decision-making in the areas of biotechnology, genomics and climate change.


A new generation of climate fiction called ''Cli-fi'' has emerged in the last decade, marking the strong consensus that has emerged over climate change. Science fiction’s concept of cognitive estrangement that combines a rational imperative to understand while focusing on something different from our everyday world provides one linkage between climate fiction and science fiction.

5 novels representing this genre that has substantial connections with science fiction are analyzed, focusing on themes common across these books: their framing of the climate change problem, their representations of science and scientists, their portrayals of economic and environmental challenges, and their scenarios for addressing the climate challenge.

The analysis is framed through Taylor’s ideas of the social imaginary and the sociology of expectations, which proposes that expectations are promissory, deterministic, and performative. The novels illustrate in varying ways the problems attending the science-society relationship, the economic imperatives that have driven the characters’ choices, and the contradictory impulses that define our connections with nature.

Such representations provide a picture of the challenges that need to be understood, but scenarios that offer possibilities for change are not as fully developed. This suggests that these books may represent a given moment in the longer trajectory of climate fiction while offering the initial building blocks to reconsider our ways of living so that new expectations and imaginaries can be debated and reconceived.

Keywords: climate change, climate science fiction, sociology of expectations, social imaginary, science and publics

Over the past decade, a strong consensus has emerged over climate change posing risks that could end civilization as we know it (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). “Doomsday,” “Orwellian nightmare,” or “apocalypse” are no longer surprising descriptors for this impending calamity that some suggest has already begun (see Abrams, 2015; McIntosh, 2010; Skrimshire, 2010).

Not surpriisingly, a stron cultural respnse in the form of climate fiction or cli-fi developed.

We analyze 5 CF novels that were written in the last decade and noted as exemplary of the genre in various articles on CF in the popular press:

Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood, 2004),

Memory of Water (Emmi Itaranta, 2014),

Solar (Ian McEwan, 2010),

Flight Behavior (Barbara Kingsolver, 2012),

Odds Against Tomorrow (Nathaniel Rich, 2013).


BLOGGER NOTES: [not part of the academic paper]

[Dan Bloom, a blogger and climate change activist, coined the term “cli-fi” in 2007, although climate change has centrally featured in various literary and cinematic forms in over two decades . Recently, the term “cli-fi” has been adopted by the popular press, and stories about this burgeoning genre began appearing in various media outlets worldwide, such as The Guardian, The New York Times, Popular Science, and National Public Radio].

]In the summer of 2014, Dan Bloom personally lobbied the The New York Times ''ROOM FOR DEBATE'' forum section online online and asked the editors to  create a discussion page in its online opinion section asking the question “Will fiction influence how we react to climate change?”, with the editors inviting Bloom and published authors and climate change activists alike to comment and debate.]


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