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To dock in on the future: Dystopic science fiction scenarios and urban sustainable visions

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In the future worlds of science fiction novels, societal and physical dilemmas are at least as pressing as those we encounter on Earth today. These novels show, by way of far-reaching technology and fantastic creativity, how the human race has overcome extraordinary physical, language and social challenges. Still, no matter how fictitious the portraits of extraterrestrial habitats or space travels, the narratives seem deeply attached to the worst imaginable breaches between affluent and poor. The images of glittering towers that stand side by side with self-made shacks are, in fact, not much different from documented inequalities and distressed living conditions on Earth. This article addresses how a handful of science fiction novels express something of importance about contemporary urban environments. The aim is to spur a consideration of urban sustainable visions, and the discussion delves into two rhetoric questions: what is so tempting about the frequently used settings, with their excessive divides between rich and poor? Further, might such dystopian and frightening fictions possibly be more effective to think about visionary plans for future cities than utopian ones?
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Keywords: City of Darkness; Lagos; dystopia; science fiction novels; urban planning; utopia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Gothenburg

Publication date: 01 September 2015

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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