Unthinking Dystopian Futures: Why the World Needs EJ Futurism

Authors: Chryl Corbin*, University of California - Berkeley, Jesse Williamson, UC Berkeley
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Ethnicity and Race, Environment
Keywords: Political Ecology, Environmental Justice, Social Justice, Futurism, Visionary Spectulation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Johnson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the coming decades, scientists predict world-changing environmental challenges, economists predict about a third of US jobs will be eliminated by robotics/artificial intelligence (AI), and demographers predict the end of the US white racial majority. These will usher a transition to a drastically different society, but the visions of this future as depicted by the science fiction genre are overwhelmingly dystopian, dominant themes include ecological disaster, scarcity, and totalitarianism, generated and/or magnified by new technologies. When and if the dystopias are overcome (typically via liberation by a hero figure) the narratives end, without describing the transitions to or seriously depicting the new, just societies. In this paper, we argue that by ignoring utopian visions, these pessimistic tropes suppress idealistic and real practical alternatives of future environmental justice (EJ), and thereby manufacture consent for the perpetuation of the inequitable status quo. Various theorists have suggested starting with a future vision (e.g. backcasting, socio-technical scenarios, vision work) as a basis for planning positive change, and we hope that similarly EJ Futurism - visionary speculation grounded in environmental justice - can serve as a needed framework to (re)imagine, (re)envision, and (re)create socially just societies.

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