Ursula Le Guin’s Speculative Anthropology: Thick Description, Historicity and Science Fiction

A new open-access article in Theory, Culture & Society may interest AHP readers: “Ursula Le Guin’s Speculative Anthropology: Thick Description, Historicity and Science Fiction” Daniel Davison-Vecchione and Sean Seeger. Abstract:

This article argues that Ursula Le Guin’s science fiction is a form of ‘speculative anthropology’ that reconciles thick description and historicity. Like Clifford Geertz’s ethnographic writings, Le Guin’s science fiction utilises thick description to place the reader within unfamiliar social worlds rendered with extraordinary phenomenological fluency. At the same time, by incorporating social antagonisms, cultural contestation, and historical contingency, Le Guin never allows thick description to neutralise historicity. Rather, by combining the two and exploring their interplay, Le Guin establishes a critical relation between her imagined worlds and the reader’s own historical moment. This enables her to both counter Fredric Jameson’s influential criticism of her work – the charge of ‘world reduction’ – and point to ungrasped utopian possibilities within the present. Le Guin’s speculative anthropology thus combines the strengths while overcoming some of the limitations of both Geertz’s thick-descriptive method and Jameson’s theory of the science fiction genre.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.