The Social Apocalypse: On Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction in a Biocultural Perspective

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What is the strange attraction of imagining the end of the world? I analyze the allure and the functions of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction, exemplified by English-language genre novels (c. 1949-1985). I draw on anthropological, biological and psychological findings to explain why such stories overwhelmingly represent the social apocalypse, and why ambivalence saturates such imaginative scenarios: they centrally dramatize the challenges and the values of sociality. Moreover, I argue that uniquely developed human adaptive capacities for imagination, decoupled cognition and mental time-travel account for the existence and psychological functions of the genre, but that a cultural perspective is indispensable to explaining the modern popularity of such stories, from stories of Cold War nuclear apocalypse to the currently popular zombie-mediated end of the world. Biologically constrained cognitive architecture gives rise to post-apocalyptic science fiction, and cultural contingency modulates it. Hence the need for a biocultural analytical framework.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventInternational Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media (IGEL) - L'università di Torino, Torino, Italy
Duration: 21 Jul 201425 Jul 2014


ConferenceInternational Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media (IGEL)
LocationL'università di Torino

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