Uncommon Courses is an occasional series from The Conversation US that highlights unconventional approaches to teaching.
“Politics and Science Fiction”
What prompted the idea for the course?
while watching”Andor” – a science fiction TV series that is part of the “Star Wars” galaxy of movies, books and TV shows – I realized that what fascinates me most about science fiction is the political aspect, especially with regard to power.
I decided to create an upper-level political science course that explores politics and governance through the lens of science fiction, with a focus on literature.
What does the course examine?
We explore issues such as racism, gender, anarchy and the end of civilization. I chose books that encourage students to focus on the political aspects of each work. At the beginning of the course, I ask students how closely they connect science fiction and politics. At the end of the course, students have the opportunity to review and revise their answer to that question. At that point, students participated in discussions, wrote papers, and completed short assignments asking them to explore and articulate political themes in each book.
I find that students in this course are beginning to take science fiction more seriously as a political genre, and those who come to class as new readers of science fiction are learning to appreciate its many subgenres and perspectives.
Why is this course relevant now?
As numerous state legislatures seek to limit what can be learned regarding many issues, including race, it is important to understand the power structures behind racism. Science fiction is an ideal way to explore issues of power and oppression.
Derrick Bell, the author of “The Space Traders”, is one of the founders of critical race theory, which argues that racism is codified in American law and society. Bell’s story combines science fiction and politics to illustrate how politicians can use the Constitution and the law to push racist policies to extremes, all to the benefit of white Americans.
What is a crucial lesson from the course?
In one of the writing assignments, I ask students to identify the political themes of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The expropriated— including utopia, anarchy, gender, and power — to another science fiction work they enjoy. The aim is to help them make connections to political perspectives in other works of science fiction and to let them re-examine a piece of science fiction they already know.
This semester, students drew comparisons to political themes across multiple science fiction formats and subgenres, including “Star Wars,”The last of us” And “The hunger Games.”
What materials does the course contain?
Ursula K. Le Guins “The expropriated”, a novel that scrutinizes anarchy, utopia and gender relations.
Stanislaw Lems “The Futurological Congress”, a novel about a future where the government uses hallucinogenic drugs to create the illusion of utopia.
Naomi Alderman’s “The power”, a novel that depicts a world in which women gain physical and political power.
What does the course prepare students for?
This course is designed to expose students to themes in science fiction that will enhance their understanding of politics and power. I ask students to explore and articulate the explicitly political aspects of science fiction. My goal is for students to leave the classroom with a new perspective on politics and government that will make politics more interesting to them and inform how they interact with works of science fiction, be it books, movies, or any other format.