[Press & Publications] ALIEN-ATING MANAGEMENT [Science; Social Sciences; Science Fiction]

May 2000

No 96

Members of the University of Leicester Management Centre have gone boldly forth into a brave new world of science fiction and organisations. The world of secretaries and X-Files, management and chaos theories, enterprise and Enterprise merged in the meeting of minds organised by the Management Centre, University of Leicester and the Department of Management, Keele University.

Over 50 international delegates attended a conference on 'Science Fiction and Organisation'. It will provide contributions to an edited collection to be published by Routledge in 2001 and follows a recent special issue of the journal Organization.

The conference brought together academics from a number of different disciplines including astronomy, physics, history, literature studies, sociology, cultural studies, film & media studies, and management.

The conference was also addressed by Mark Brake from the University of Glamorgan's Faculty of Applied Science. Mark is the course leader on the world's first BSc (Hons) Science & Science Fiction degree course offered by the University of Glamorgan. His presentation highlighted the contemporary media interest in his project and sought to demonstrate the relevance of science fiction for the teaching of physical sciences.

Warren Smith, of the University of Leicester Management Centre, said: Delegates discussed whether science fiction can provide an important resource with which to address issues relating to contemporary organising processes and organisations as institutions.

After all, SF is both a diagnosis of the present and a vision of possible futures. It is therefore unsurprising that SF has enjoyed occasional incursions into the territory of organisation studies.

At the conference, the experts looked at:

Utopian fiction: from More's original Utopia to feminist science fictions like those of Ursula LeGuin and Marge Piercy. It was pointed out that many of the thought experiments in SF about fictional futures could be related to the theorising of academic and management futurologists. Many of the claims made for 'postmodern' society are reflected in 'fantastic' fiction.

Dystopias: this is a classic theme for science fiction, from Huxley's Brave New World, to Orwell's 1984. Warring corporations and their destructive impact on society and the environment is a persistent concern in this literature.

Corporate power and contemporary cyberpunk: cyberpunk portrays a new feudalism based on corporate power and the commodification of the human body. SF also demonises the corporate bureaucrat in such works as Metropolis, Rollerball, Robocop, Brazil. Papers also referred to the paranoia associated with the activities of the State/Military/Industrial complex as seen most prominently in the conspiracy theories of the X-files and Dark Skies.

Marketing: a session also explored the frequent criticisms of marketing within SF. For instance, electronic implants and subliminal messages are all 'fictions' which attempt to represent the increasing influence penetration of marketing in our 'everyday' lives. It was noted that SF itself is a resolutely commercial genre. The merchandising of the Star Wars films is an important example.

Fiction and fact: one stream of the conference was concerned with the relationship between science fiction and science fact. These papers demonstrated the multi-directional influence of SF on technological developments. The most well known case is Arthur C. Clarke's conceptualisation of the communications satellite. However the invention of the laser was influenced by representations in SF and Asimov's 'three laws of robotics' was linked with the development of contemporary cybernetics. However SF also has a long tradition of moralising about a Frankenstein's monster version of science that corrupts and destroys. Often in SF the alien 'other' is a resource used to question the nature of what it is to be human. Celebrated examples include Spock and Data in Star Trek and Philip K. Dick's various musings on implanted memories.

Dr Smith added: The science fiction work will form part of a wider project that aims to explore organisational and cultural issues as represented outside the traditional management disciplines.

NOTE TO NEWSDESKS: For more information, please contact Warren Smith on 0116 252 5647 or Matthew Higgins on 0116 252 5644.

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Information supplied by: Barbara Whiteman
Last updated: 09 May 2000 15:09
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