I thought this was a really interesting insight on 44-45 of Steve Fuller’s Humanity 2.0:
Setting aside the prescience – or not – of these works when it comes to genetic transformation and more radical future embodiments for humanity, they provide the trace of what remained of sociology’s original non-academic impulse after much, if not most, of it had been co-opted by Hobhouse’s LSE appointment. Fictional works by Aldous Huxley, C.P. Snow, Arthur Koestler and, of course, George Orwell may be seen having continued this ‘subaltern’ tradition. The interesting question for us is why these novelists are not normally considered writers of sociology?
The answer, I would suggest, has little to do with their failure to rely exclusively on strict fact. After all, most ‘social theory’ today is just as aromatically related to empirical phenomena as most science fiction. Rather, the difference lies in the lack of appropriate accountability for science fiction works. There is little incentive for science fiction writers to critique, let alone re-do, the visions of the future they draw from their counterfactual appraisals of history. Each writer tends to strike out on his or her own. Consequently, the enterprise has no collective direction, and it is difficult to decide the relative merits of works, because the critics who do propose evaluative criteria are loosely coupled to the enterprise. For Kuhn (1977), this marks science fiction as more an ‘art’ than a ‘science’. But note that all of these comments about the exclusion of science fiction from sociology pertain less to its content than its institutionalisation. In other words, à la Karl Popper, if we were to treat science-fictional propositions as revisable hypotheses rather than stand-alone fantasy worlds, then they could quite quickly form a kind of sociology – which is perhaps what H.G. Wells had hoped would happen. The difference between the two prospects boils down to whether how one fills in what the author leaves unspecified: Does one simply imagine that it is already the case or take into account what it would cost to make it the case?
Categories: The Transformation of Academic Practice