cyberpunkish pontifications

Over the weekend I iterated my Extremely Minor Public Intellectual routine once again, at the invitation of Mark Everglade, who interviewed me as part of World Cyberpunk Day (which is, or at least was, apparently A Thing*).

Mark describes me as “a post-doctoral scholar of sociotechnical futures who works with science fiction tools and ideas to render sociological insights”, and sums up with the claim that “we discuss[ed] utopia, dystopia, cyborgs, and the relationship of technology and culture”, which is about right. Perhaps we should also add that, for all my academic advancements, he’s clearly far better at producing a concise abstract than I am!

[ * Interesting to note that cyberpunk is the genre, or at least the aesthetic, that refuses to die, no matter how much its progenitors might have preferred it to; one could easily be sniffy about what seems to be at least in part a network of self-pub authors and creators keeping the generic ball in the air, but the counterpoint would be to argue that’s exactly what cyberpunk’s musical namesake has managed to do so successfully since the late 70s. Sure, there’s dreadful derivative “punk rock” music still being made, but there’s also plenty of work that draws on the energy, the attitude or the style of that heritage and does something new with it. Seismic echoes, innit? Furthermore the scholarship around cyberpunk is undergoing something of a reconstitution, perhaps because it’s easier to understand it as a historically contingent cultural phenomenon with the benefit of ~35 years of political and sociotechnical hindsight… but also because, gratifyingly for me, there’s a growing sense that what was missed in much of the at-the-time scholarship was an analysis of the infrastructural. While the cyberpunk-as-aesthetic thing is easily dismissed—perhaps a little too easily, given its popular endurance—the ontological and epistemological attitudes that it brought to sf are, I would argue, more relevant than ever. The “speculative turn” in the social sciences, for instance, is as much reliant on cyberpunk’s focus on sociotechnical and/or class relations (a legacy of its inheritance from film noir?) as on, say, the critical utopianisms of the New Wave. The widespread discomfort with cyberpunk’s persistence might thus be tied to the way in which it signals that the neoliberalism in which it was forged is still with us now; to argue that it is somehow to blame for propagating or sustaining said neoliberalism is to displace a complicity that we all carry with us to some extent. Mirrors are always discomforting devices. ]



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