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16th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities
University of London, Birkbeck
March 22 and March 23, 2013
Cultural Legalities of Science Fiction (Stream)

Recent developments in scholarship have seen a renewed interest in the relationship between law and science fiction (Tranter 2011, Travis 2011). In particular, there has been an emphasis on the ability of law to articulate entities previously found exclusively in science fiction (Karpin 2006, Travis 2011). It is in science fiction that the question and problem of the human has often originally been represented.

Uniquely, science fiction has the ability to sketch out new entities of ‘person’ and question their relationship to ‘human.’ This takes place on a number of different levels. Firstly, the concept of the human is questioned on the genetic level through the creation of entities such as clones (Tranter and Statham 2007), cyborgs (Harraway 1991) and the admixed embryo (Karpin 2006, Travis 2011). Secondly, the human in science fiction is routinely questioned on the essential level through the use of language, will and rationality by non-human entities such as artificial intelligence (Solum 1992, Tranter 2007, Hubbard 2010) and Aliens in texts such as District 9, The Matrix, Battlestar Galactica.

These narratives also raise trenchant questions about our own technological culture and what it means to be included or excluded from the realms of humanity. In this way science fiction can be seen as a cultural negotiation for – and, in some instances reinterpretations of – the human.

Themes addressed could include:

  • What can science fiction  tell us about cultural perceptions of the human in terms of fluidity, embodiment or hierarchy?
  • How does science fiction open up dialogue about law, enhancement and the post-human? Indeed are these themes unique to science fiction?
  • How important is science fiction to understanding the future of humanity and human relations with technology?
  • Are science fiction blockbusters necessarily conservative in their understandings, deployment or articulation of law and the human?
  • How far do science fictive portrayals of the non-human alien correspond to national and international norms of alien and citizen?
  • How do legal understandings of the human manifest themselves in science fiction?