Emancipatory Catastrophism and the Speculative Imagination

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Luke GOODE, University of Auckland, New Zealand
This paper explores Ulrich Beck’s (2016) theory of emancipatory catastrophism by attending to the role of popular media in reframing environmental risk. Beck claims that disasters and potentially catastrophic risks generate new normative horizons, specifically the emergence of ‘global justice frames’. The ‘anthropological shock’ of the risk society may be politically debilitating in the first instance but also leads to a new reflexivity, Beck argues. One significant result, he claims, is an emergent ‘global environmental justice frame’. This frame, informed by a cosmopolitan ethic, also denatures climate change causes and consequences by connecting them to issues of racism, imperialism and social justice. For Beck, this new frame does not emerge automatically but as a result of ‘cultural work’ on the part of activists, media and others ‘carrier groups’. The move from shock to reflection does not restore modernity’s faith in progress or technocratic solutionism. Rather, citizens of the risk society must grapple with ceaseless social ‘metamorphosis’ (Verwandlung), provisionality and unanticipated consequences of intervention. This helps explain why the work involved in generating new emancipatory frames is symbolic and imaginative, and not merely evidence and solution-based (echoed also in Monbiot, 2017 and Klein, 2017). Beck points to the importance of popular culture as an agent of emancipatory reframing in the face of environmental risk. This paper discusses whether, and to what extent, popular culture may serve as a vehicle for reframing climate change in terms of global justice and emancipation in the way that Beck envisages. Specifically, it explores two media genres, both geared to future-oriented speculations on the challenges of climate change: non-fiction coverage of emerging ‘green’ tech, and environmental science fiction (‘cli-fi’). While adding detail (and complexity) to the theory of emancipatory catastrophism, the paper also juxtaposes significant counter-frames of ‘elite catastrophism’ and ‘technological solutionism’.