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Science Fiction and Culture

Updated on June 14, 2015


Introduction

The science fiction-genre is a popular genre in Western art.* Science fiction stories involve, to a certain extent, an escape from the current day world. Because of this, it stands in the tradition of the nineteenth century current of Romanticism. One of the sources of inspiration of this genre is the work of the French author Jules Verne.

Artistic products, belonging to this current contain some ideas and images that are interesting from the viewpoint of cultural analysis. In the following I would like to discuss some of these ideas, applying them to aspects of our culture.


Cultural diversity

Characters in science fiction stories often travel between different planets. The world in science fiction stories is not a unity, but consists of multiple disconnected sub-worlds - planets or universa.
We could interpret this as an allegory for the cultural diversity around us. We don't live in a single, monolithical culture, but, rather, in a world of many different cultures and sub-cultures. Travelling between different cultures or having contact with people from different cultures sometimes feels like travelling between different planets.
We could say that the most important division line between cultures is language. But we could also say that every culture reflects a different order - between people, language and material things.


Organisations in modern society

People in science fiction stories often live and work together in spaceships. We could see this as an allegory for the way in which organisations operate in modern society. Premodern societies in Europe often had a big amount of internal cohesion. The organisations, active in society, could be seen as organical parts of a body.
The situation nowadays is different. The many organisations of modern societies can't be seen anymore as interconnected parts of one body. They should rather be seen as entities that are to a great extent disconnected and each operate according to their own goals and internal rules.
Organisations in modern society can, to a certain extent, be compared with the spaceships of science fiction stories. They each operate (travel along) on the basis of internally formulated goals and have their own personnel.
The detached character of organisations in modern society is being reflected in the work of the American sociologist Talcott Parsons, who studied in Europe a part of his career. Parsons sketched organisations as detached units, guided by internally formulated rules and goals.


Conclusion

The science fiction genre deserves attention from the viewpoint of cultural analysis, because it symbolises certain aspects of life in general and, more specific, modern society.
We can learn from this genre that there are fundamental (cultural) differences in our world. Like postmodernist thought it is critical about the existence of overarching structures and ideologies. With its image of the spaceship as the place where people work and live it picks up a theme, that has been discussed within Sociology, namely the fragmented character of modern society.



* See for example the movie The Fifth Element or the French comic series Valerian & Laureline.




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