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Speculative Fiction Research Network

Research group The Speculative Fiction Research Network comprises literature scholars who are joined by their engagement with speculative fiction and who explore issues such as climate change, artificial intelligence, and transspecies kinship.

Speculative fiction is a broad term applied to literature that in some way departs from mimetic, realistic fiction via the inclusion of imaginative elements. This definition encompasses works that can be categorized into established imaginative genres such as science fiction and fantasy, as well as works that do not adhere to any specific genres, or whose representations are only incrementally removed from the world as we know it.  

Beginning with the question “what if?”, works in speculative fiction may thus create and explore worlds and concepts that are close to or very distant from our own. In these worlds, polar ice caps may melt slightly ahead of real-world predictions or rising sea levels may force people to live in floating cities; changed ecologies that require minute adaptations may be envisioned or plants may develop sentience and acquire full citizenship within human communities; real-world challenges to urban structures may be slightly exaggerated or cities may come alive as avatars.

The participants in the network share the common overarching goals of demonstrating the significance of speculative fiction as a literary form and contributing to greater understanding of contemporary social issues and debates, hopefully in productive ways. They explore, for example, how speculative fiction negotiates and represents environmental challenges, issues around technology and change, norms connected to identity and family, and altered paradigms that decentre the human. Theories and methods that underpin and design analyses are found within fields such as material ecocriticism, posthumanism, and critical kinship studies. 

Maria Lindgren Leavenworth

I have worked with speculative fiction for a long time, with a start in how vampire text worlds, and then particularly de-fanged, romantic vampires, were transformed in fan fiction and used to criticize popular culture norms. More recently, I have mapped and analyzed how the Arctic is imagined in speculative fictions from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein until today. My interest lies in how speculative fictions draw from real-world discourses but add new ‘Arctics’ to the textual tradition. From this project, I take inspiration to further investigate how speculative fiction in inventive ways represent interconnectedness between climates, places, and life forms, and how it thereby partakes in imagining more sustainable futures.

Van Leavenworth

Speculative fiction has been the dominant focus in my research. In previous work, I examined how the poetics of literary Gothic conventions, tropes and elements are reinvented in interactive fiction, a contemporary digital text form. A major focus in this research was on conceptions of character subjectivity, which I have also explored in science fiction but with additional consideration for how relations between human/self and artificial/other are maintained and negotiated via gender expectations and environmental discourses. In more recent work, I investigate how specific works of speculative fiction imaginatively address current challenges with climate change in a productive way, and at times suggest possibilities for more sustainable futures.

Berit Åström

My research into speculative fiction has predominantly been through the lens of critical kinship studies. In earlier projects, I have explored how texts conceptualise and re-imagine ideas of close relations in new contexts, in particular in representations of motherhood but also parenting and carework in general. In my current work, I am expanding the scope to consider instances of transspecies kinship as well as kinship networks comprising human and artificial intelligences, with a focus on how speculative fiction makes sense of current challenges to kinship formations and practices of care and in what terms possible alternatives can be envisaged.



Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Language Studies

Research area

General literary studies
Latest update: 2023-04-14