Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


30 April 2021

Utopian Hope in Dark Times

Presented By Dr Caroline Edwards as part of the CRCC Seminar Series

About this event

Within the context of an increasingly dystopian sense of global crisis, how can the idea of Utopia help us galvanise political literary readings? Despite the seemingly relentless, dystopian nature of these issues contemporary writers are responding by using utopian registers in their fiction, anticipating alternative ways of imagining subjectivity, community and historical modes of belonging through formal and stylistic innovation. Literary scholars such as Fredric Jameson and Peter Boxall have commented on this distinctly “utopian turn” in twenty-first century Anglophone writing, as seen in the works of Juliana Spahr, Nnedi Okorafor, David Mitchell, Nalo Hopkinson, China Miéville, Colson Whitehead, Samuel Delany, Jennifer Egan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jim Crace, Maggie Gee, Ali Smith, Hari Kunzru and Emily St. John Mandel. This is matched by a similar interrogation of hope as an index of political anticipation in influential theoretical works by Lynne Segal (2017), Terry Eagleton (2015), Lauren Berlant (2011) and David Harvey (2000). Drawing on her recent book, Utopia and the Contemporary British Novel (CUP, 2019), Dr Caroline Edwards will discuss the resurgence of interest in utopianism in recent years, considering how utopian methods of reading can uncover previously overlooked currents of political anticipation within works of fiction produced in “dark times.”

Caroline Edwards' research focuses on the utopian imagination in contemporary literature, science fiction, apocalyptic narratives, and Western Marxism. She is author of Utopia and the Contemporary British Novel (Cambridge University Press, 2019), which examines temporal experience and utopian anticipation in contemporary texts by British writers including Hari Kunzru, Maggie Gee, David Mitchell, Ali Smith, Jim Crace, Joanna Kavenna, Grace McCleen, Jon McGregor and Claire Fuller. Her work on contemporary writers has also led to two co-edited books of essays: China Miéville: Critical Essays (Gylphi, 2015) and Maggie Gee: Critical Essays (Gylphi, 2015).

Caroline is currently working on her second monograph, Science Fiction in the Era of Ecocatastrophe, which considers how fictions of extreme environments (such as Mars, Antarctica, the deep sea, and the centre of the Earth) have allowed writers to imagine creative responses to real and perceived disasters about climate change, from the late 19th century to the present day. Her other main project at the moment is editing The Cambridge Companion to British Utopian Literature and Culture, 1945-2020 (forthcoming in 2022).

Caroline has written a number of journal articles for publications such as TelosModern Fiction StudiesTextual PracticeContemporary LiteratureScience Fiction StudiesASAP: Journal of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, the New Statesman and the Times Higher Education. Her book chapter contributions on science and utopian fiction and contemporary literature include chapters for The Cambridge Companion to British Fiction, 1980 to the Present (ed. Peter Boxall), The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, 2nd edition (ed. Niall Harrison, Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James), Science Fiction: A Literary History (ed. Roger Luckhurst, for the British Library Press), The Routledge Companion to Twenty-First-Century Fiction (ed. Robert Eaglestone and Daniel O'Gorman) and the Palgrave Handbook of Utopian and Dystopian Literature (ed. Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, Fátima Vieira and Peter Marks).

Caroline is on the editorial boards for the Palgrave Studies in Utopianism book series and Gylphi's SF Storyworlds: Critical Studies in Science Fiction book series. She is a member of the Modern Languages Association, the Utopian Studies Society, the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP), the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association and the English Association. She is also a founding member of the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS) and acted as Secretary of the association from 2016-18.

Contact details

  • Questions about this event? Contact the CRCC Seminar Series organisers