Call for papers: Socio 12 – “Science and science-fiction”

The journal Socio is launching a call for papers on the theme of “Science and science-fiction”. The issue is being co-ordinated by Stéphane Dufoix (Laboratoire Sophiapol, Université Paris Nanterre) and Julien Wacquez (CEFRES, USR 3138 CNRS-MEAE, EHESS).

Intending contributors should send an outline of their text (title, 2 page summary and bibliography) to Socio before 31 October 2017. Articles should be forwarded to reach the journal by 19 February 2018.

Argument

Some science-fiction writers use scientific knowledge which is either established or sufficiently credible to shape their narratives. The readers who have already browsed through these texts are aware of the strange feelings they arouse; they pose problems which have not yet been resolved by scientific activity. For this reason, these narratives constitute a source of ideas, concepts and objects, hypotheses and sets of questions which are sometimes used by researchers to carry out their investigations. For example, this occurs in astrobiology, a subject which speculates on the extraterrestrial forms of life which we might encounter on other planets, on the basis of reading accounts such as Solaris by Stanislas Lem (Helmreich, 2009). This also occurs in astrophysics when scientists are seeking new techniques for the exploration of space which would make these journeys less expensive and more accessible, notably by drawing inspiration from (but not uniquely) the novel, The Fountain of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke and by examining the feasibility of the technical implementation of the “Space Elevator” which he describes (see in this respect the publication directed by the astrophysician, David Raitt, 2017). These examples are not intended to conceal the existence of similar practices in other scientific disciplines and in the social sciences. Thus, researchers would appear to do their scientific work with science-fiction.

Consequently, working on science-fiction makes it necessary to reflect on the way in which we understand the affinities between this type or this genre of writing and scientific activity. Why do some researchers actually use science-fiction narratives in the course of their inquiries? What processes do they use (translation, redescription, transposition, etc.) which enable them to introduce elements of science fiction into what is nevertheless a highly formalised scientific framework? What research contexts and what objects of study are prioritised by these people who are at one and the same time scientists and readers of science-fiction? Finally, why do some of these scientists write science fiction in addition to their academic work?

The issue of Socio on “Science and science-fiction” aims to assemble studies which, while not postulating their equivalence or merging, do not create a complete separation between literature on one hand and science on the other. While not presupposing either the existence of these categories (literature/science), nor that of differentiated semantic fields, we suggest that on one hand science is a space of imagination, creation and extrapolation and, on the other that literature is a space of observation, constraint and production of knowledge. As Vincent Debaene (2010) recommended in his book L’Adieu au voyage, by not postulating any prior definition we focus on what writers and their readers actually do—whether they be researchers or science-fiction writers, or both.

For this issue, our ambition is to take the science-fiction narratives and their effectiveness in different scientific spheres seriously by problematising it. This implies shadowing the actors’ practices in reading, writing, scientific and/or literary investigations. At the same time, we should bear in mind various questions including the following:

  • What relationships do scientists (whether they be in the natural sciences or the social sciences) maintain with science-fiction in the course of their research activities? In what ways do they “use” them?
  • What are the writing techniques used by the “producers” of science-fiction (writers, editors, academics) to ensure that their narrative is scientifically tangible (Chateauraynaud, 2004)?
  • How do they go about making scientific knowledge into the issues at stake in a plot?
  • How are these narratives assessed and appraised?
  • Do they attempt to establish individual or institutional links with science?

This call for papers invites contributors to consider forms of writing, how they participate in processes of production of knowledge and the choices of relevant scales of analysis. Should the focus be on the text/reading pair, as conceptualised by Eric Livingston (1995) in An Anthropology of Reading to grasp what is at issue when an science-fiction narrative is being read and, thereby, understand how scientific readings of these narratives come to light? Should we undertake a historical sociology of the constitution of certain scientific problems of a speculative nature, which take shape over a number of years or decades and in which science-fiction texts participate or are used?

Finally, the (central) question about the interaction between science and science-fiction literature is part of a wider reflection on the way in which we can understand and describe the “links” between these different forms of writing. With what methods and what concepts, which vocabulary, can we account for the affinities between science-fiction and scientific activity? How can we abandon an “ontological” approach which presumes a fundamental difference between science on one hand and literature on the other?

Calendar

Proposals for articles, approximately 5,000 signs (2-3 pages, including notes and bibliography) should be submitted by 31 October 2017 to the editorial office : socio@msh-paris.fr. They should enable a precise understanding of both the research material on which the article will be based, along with the problematic and the intellectual approach adopted by the author, the main hypotheses and findings of the research carried out and the main concepts and references discussed.

After acceptance of the proposal, the article, approximately 30,000 signs (including notes and bibliography) should reach the journal by 19 February 2018 at the latest. It will be submitted to the reading panel of the journal and external reviewers

References

Chateauraynaud, Francis, 2004, “L’épreuve du tangible : expériences de l’enquête et surgissement de la preuve”, Raisons pratiques, issue about La croyance et l’enquête. Aux sources du pragmatisme, vol. 15, p. 167-194.

Clarke, Arthur C., 1979. The Fountain of Paradise. London, Victor Gollancz

Debaene, Vincent, 2010, L’adieu au Voyage. L’ethnologie française entre science et littérature, Paris, Gallimard.

Galison, Peter, 2010, “Trading with the Enemy”, in Michael E.Gorman (ed.), Trading Zones and International Expertise: Creating New Kinds of Collaboration, Cambridge, The MIT Press, p. 25-52.

Hache, Émilie (ed.), 2014, De l’univers clos au monde infini, Bellevaux, Éditions Dehors.

Helmreich, Stefan, 2009, Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Livingston, Eric, 1995, An Anthropology of Reading. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Raitt, David (ed.), 2017, Space Elevators: A History, International Space Elevator Consortium, Lulu.com.

Rastier, François, 2001, Arts et sciences du texte, Paris, PUF.


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