ArticlePDF Available

Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction: We Cannot Escape the Human Condition



The article explores the construction of boundaries, alterity and otherness in modern science-fiction (SF) films. Boundaries, understood as real state borders, territoriality and sovereignty, as well as the construction of the other beyond an imagined border and delimited space, have a significant meaning in the dystopian settings of SF. Even though SF topics are not bound to the contemporary environment, be it of a historical, technical or ethical nature, they do relate to the present-day world and transcend our well-known problems. Therefore, SF offers a pronounced discourse about current social challenges under extreme conditions such as future technological leaps, encounters with the alien other or the end of the world. At the same time the genre enables us to play through future challenges that might really happen. Films like Equilibrium (2002), Code 46 (2003), Children of Men (2006) and District 9 (2009) show that in freely constructed cinematic settings we are not only unable to escape from our border conflicts, but quite the contrary, we take them everywhere with us, even to an alternative present or into the future, where new precarious situations of otherness are constructed.
Isabella Hermann
Berlin-Brandenburg Academy
of Sciences and Humanities
Boundaries and Otherness
in Science Fiction: We Cannot Escape
the Human Condition
Ab s t r A c t
The article explores the construction of boundaries, alterity and otherness
in modern science-ction (SF) lms. Boundaries, understood as real state
borders, territoriality and sovereignty, as well as the construction of the
other beyond an imagined border and delimited space, have a signicant
meaning in the dystopian settings of SF. Even though SF topics are not
bound to the contemporary environment, be it of a historical, technical
or ethical nature, they do relate to the present-day world and transcend
our well-known problems. Therefore, SF offers apronounced discourse
about current social challenges under extreme conditions such as future
technological leaps, encounters with the alien other or the end of the
world. At the same time the genre enables us to play through future
challenges that might really happen. Films like Equilibrium (2002), Code
46 (2003), Children of Men (2006) and District 9 (2009) show that in freely
constructed cinematic settings we are not only unable to escape from our
border conicts, but quite the contrary, we take them everywhere with
us, even to an alternative present or into the future, where new precarious
situations of otherness are constructed.
Keywords: international relations, emotions, body politics, alien
encounter, world state.
Text Matters, Volume 8, Number 8, 2018
DOI: 10.1515/texmat-2018-0013
Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction
Isabella Hermann
Berlin-Brandenburg Academy
of Sciences and Humanities
Boundaries and Otherness
in Science Fiction: We Cannot Escape
the Human Condition
Ab s t r A c t
The article explores the construction of boundaries, alterity and otherness
in modern science-ction (SF) lms. Boundaries, understood as real state
borders, territoriality and sovereignty, as well as the construction of the
other beyond an imagined border and delimited space, have a signicant
meaning in the dystopian settings of SF. Even though SF topics are not
bound to the contemporary environment, be it of a historical, technical
or ethical nature, they do relate to the present-day world and transcend
our well-known problems. Therefore, SF offers apronounced discourse
about current social challenges under extreme conditions such as future
technological leaps, encounters with the alien other or the end of the
world. At the same time the genre enables us to play through future
challenges that might really happen. Films like Equilibrium (2002), Code
46 (2003), Children of Men (2006) and District 9 (2009) show that in freely
constructed cinematic settings we are not only unable to escape from our
border conicts, but quite the contrary, we take them everywhere with
us, even to an alternative present or into the future, where new precarious
situations of otherness are constructed.
Keywords: international relations, emotions, body politics, alien
encounter, world state.
Science-ction (SF) lms are so fascinating because they show us in
acomparatively short time atechnically advanced possible future that
serves as amirror for our desires and anxieties. What makes SF lms—
and the whole SF genre in general—interesting for action enthusiasts,
tech nerds and social researchers alike is the fact that they are neither
formally nor conceptually bound to the (technological) limitations of
our real world but offer apotential alternative. However, the authors
and directors of SF, in addition to the scientists and experts whom
they ask for information and advice, are, naturally, part of our real
world. This means that problematics being discussed in SF always
relate to contemporary human experiences while transferring them
to extreme, alternative settings. Such contexts as future technological
leaps, encounters with the alien other, or the end of the world open up
adiscourse where both current and timeless social-political challenges
emerge as if viewed under amagnifying glass. One important recurring
topic in SF is that of geographical, political and social boundaries, be
it state borders, territoriality and sovereignty in general, as well as the
other beyond an imagined border and delimited space. The construction
of borders, new frontiers and otherness and their political implications
can be seen very clearly in Star Trek: Original Series, as well as Star Trek:
The Next Generation, where it is precisely the task of the crew of the
Spaceship Enterprise to explore “new frontiers” (Buzan; Neumann).
Thus, dealing with borders and otherness—physically existent or
constructed and imagined—are crucial topics in SF lms echoing how
we think about ourselves and our society. Icall this discourse on social-
political challenges which is opened up by the genre boundary management,
with the boundary being precisely the area where material, social, ethical or
ideological borders overlap and thus have to be dealt with.
Referring to four modern, dissimilar and rather non-commercial SF
movies, Iwill show how these lms try to manage old and new boundaries
and how they are connected to our current reality. As such, the paper
argues that we are not only unable to escape from our boundary conicts,
but, quite the contrary, that we also carry them everywhere with us, even
to an alternative present or to the future, and construct precarious new
situations of restriction and otherness. We are in an ongoing process
of boundary management. The paper is divided into three sections. In
the rst, Iwill elucidate the rather descriptive research approach which
explores SF as arepresentation of reality, in addition to what Iunderstand
by modern SF. The second and main section deals with the dominant
topics of boundary-management by means of an individual analysis of
Isabella Hermann
the SF lms Equilibrium (2002), Code 46 (2003), Children of Men (2006)
and District 9 (2009). Finally, the conclusion will summarize the ndings,
arguing that SF can be seen as away to be inspired to discuss and solve
future problems.
SF and PolItIcal analySIS
There are many ways to analyze SF. Generally, SF can be dened as agenre
where some scientic technological progress has taken place which then
exerts inuence over our social and political life. Therefore, SF lms are
often set in the future. However, the real or merely imagined scientic
plausibility differentiates SF from the genre of fantasy which is located in
arather magical world or universe without necessarily having aconnection
to our current reality. In SF, the future technological innovations enable
the audience in general, and social researchers in particular, to critically
examine and think through social-political problematics that are at the
point of occurring or have not happened yet but that might happen in
the future (Kiersey and Neumann 7). Therefore, SF is often inherently
political since social and political problematics are not only dealt with
implicitly as side-effects of an action-laden story, but the genre also
“concerns itself quite self-consciously with political issues future and
present” (Weldes 10).
As part of popular culture, one might view SF as amirror of reality, “as
evidence about dominant norms, ideas, identities, or beliefs in aparticular
state, society or region” (Nexon and Neumann 13). This means that
Imake adistinction here between “in-world” and “in-show”; thus between
the “real world” and what happens in the movies (Kiersey and Neumann
5–10). My claim is then to show how the lms analyzed deal with border
and boundary problematics with the aim of nding out more about the
conditions of our society and how we are trapped in them. Consequently,
my interest is to show how these lms represent and transcend current
real-world problematics of borders and boundaries.
In order to show a variety of different boundary constructions,
the article deals with four contemporary SF lms made after 2000. The
date of 2000 was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, the magical date of
2000 is in itself an indicator of modernity and SF having nally come
true. Since the setting of many SF lms of the 20th century takes place
after 2000, this date is inherently connected with a move into the
modern age or a“jump into the future.” The most prominent example
is Kubrick’s 2001: ASpace Odyssey from 1968, where the title already
indicates amodern and technologically advanced world right after the
Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction
turn of the millennium. Secondly, the 9/11 attacks of 2001 meant areal
change of political paradigm, exposing the vulnerability of the U.S. and
the Western liberal democratic model. Apparently Fukuyama’s End of
History (1992) was only adream and it seems that we might rather head
towards Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations (1996). Congruent with
the realization that the turn towards Western liberal democracy was
not the desired progress of global society, ashift took place from the
fun patriotic U.S. movies of the 1990s, such as Stargate (USA/France
1994), Independence Day (USA 1996), Men in Black (USA 1997), or
Armageddon (USA 1998), to rather dire and/or critical ones after 2000,
including Minority Report (USA 2002), I, Robot (USA 2004), The Island
(USA 2005), IAm Legend (USA 2007), The Day the Earth Stood Still
(USA 2008), Ender’s Game (USA 2013), Elysium (USA 2013), and Snow
Piercer (USA/South Korea 2013)—not to mention the new version of
the TV series Battlestar Galactica (Canada 2004–09).1 While serious SF
lms were also made in the 1990s, and lighter ones after 2000, acertain
trend is nonetheless clearly observable.
Being aware that the analysis of lms contains an entire methodological
toolkit of its own, Iconcentrate here on the text and narrative of the lms
in order to establish their connections to current political problematics
(Kuhn, Alien Zone 9). SF is of course dened as alm genre also by
aesthetics of destruction and disaster (Sontag), as well as by technical
innovations in terms of special effects (Kuhn, Alien Zone II 1–8). However,
this is of rather less importance for the sake of this contribution. Ido not
engage in alm analysis but make the point that SF deals with everlasting
political problematics.
Boundary IS SueS In Modern SF
For the analysis, I chose the lms Equilibrium (USA 2002, dir. Kurt
Wimmer), Code 46 (UK 2003, dir. Michael Winterbottom), Children of Men
(USA/UK 2006, dir. Alfonso Cuarón) and District 9 (USA/New Zealand/
Canada/South Africa 2009, dir. Neill Blomkamp). They were selected for
three reasons: rstly, because they self-consciously deal with political issues,
preserving the researcher from overinterpretation; secondly, because they
all broach very different issues of boundary management, demonstrating
1 This also includes the new lm versions of comics presenting the heroes
as torn and vulnerable individuals like in X-Men (USA 2000), Spider-Man (USA
2002), Daredevil (USA 2003), Hellboy (USA 2004), Batman Begins (USA 2005)
or Iron Man (USA 2008), and their numerous sequels.
Isabella Hermann
the whole variety of thought experiments that SF can provide; and thirdly,
because all of them have aclear and comprehensible link to our real world
and current problems, in spite of the diversity of boundary management
Quite unsurprisingly, most of the SF lms produced post-2000 are
dystopias. Generally, adystopia signies anegative and alarming political
vision understood as the opposite of Thomas More’s utopia which has
become proverbial today for a perfect but unattainable social-political
community (see Arnswald and Schütt). Dystopias are generally designed
as autocratic or dictatorial regimes being characterized by open, or rather
concealed, authoritarian or totalitarian traits. Therefore, dystopias in
science ction are away to critically analyze and question negative real
or potential distortions of our political systems. Embedded in dystopian
settings are the political problematics of body politics and how to develop
a common human identity or become a world state respectively. The
former term—body politics—refers to the policies and practices of how
the political/social elite rules over the human body, thus indicating abattle
between individual and public control over ourselves and physical integrity
(Grosz). This comprises discussions about birth control and abortion,
cloning, the use of drugs, viruses, or implants, as well as the development
of cyborgs, androids and articial intelligence. Agood example, which will
not feature in this article, is the 2009 lm Moon, which deals with the
fundamental ethical difculties, including the right to self-determination,
involved in cloning.
The other thematic centers include discussions about the possibilities
of founding aworld state and common human identity. According to social
psychological research we are always in need of an Other in order to dene
our own social and group identity (Tajfel; Tajfel and Turner). The boundary
between in-group and out-group can be set in two different ways, namely
in the form of enmity or competition. Concerning the rst, the in-group
identity is strengthened by dening the out-group as acommon menace to
be collectively disdained or destroyed. In the two Independence Day lms,
humanity was united across state, cultural and religious borders by the
joint ght against the alien menace. Concerning the second, the othering
process happens in the more constructive manner of acompetition in
which one group might be the winner or the best according to certain
standards. The out-group might even be perceived as ideal to follow suit.
In Star Trek, humanity only developed a common identity after contact
with the technologically and socially advanced Vulcans, an alien race
having overcome war and violence. As such, the in-group identity is always
constituted and strengthened by projecting acertain image of the out-
group, be it positive or negative.
Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction
The lm Equilibrium is set in a future world which has been devastated
by World War III. From the ruins of war the totalitarian state Libria has
emerged, where the people are prohibited by the state/government from
engaging in any cultural activity such as art or music which might bear
the danger of causing emotions. Moreover, people are obliged to take
a substance in order to suppress emotional reactions, which is a clear
case of severe body control by state authorities. Conformity with the
system is assured by a sophisticated monitoring mechanism headed by
adictator called “Father,”, areference to George Orwell’s “Big Brother”
in 1984. Nonetheless, an underground resistance group has formed whose
members—while pretending to take the substance—secretly indulge their
emotions in the form of collecting art, listening to music, dancing, and
falling in love of course. The story ends up in ahuge showdown in the
monumental buildings of the totalitarian regime.
Of major political relevance in the lm is the postulated contrast
between rational and irrational behavior. Obviously, the state government
in Equilibrium considers emotions as detrimental to rational thinking
and decision-making, having even caused World War III and endangering
international peace. However, there is in fact no need to go as far as
evoking an ominous World War III. We know from World War Iand II
and many other violent historical conicts that misguided emotions,
such as excessive nationalism and chauvinism, have been identied as
one of the key instigators of violence and suffering (Hobsbawn). For the
sake of peace it may therefore seem necessary to suppress those anarchic
features of human biology. However, in addition to many daily joys, by
blocking emotions and destroying all material that might generate them
we lose not only our negative incentives to start war but all our other
cultural achievements as well. So as in aGreek tragedy we paradoxically
lose what we want to preserve by trying to preserve it: our humanity.
Interestingly enough, according to social psychological common
sense knowledge, social life cannot work without emotions (Stein). Along
with other psychological and cognitive facts, emotions contribute to the
making of good and bad decisions, or “rational” and “irrational” ones.
But it is not emotions per se that distract the human being from coming
to valid decisions. Rather, it is the other way around: without emotions
there would be no decisions at all. However, in political science and above
all in International Relations when analyzing the behavior of decision-
makers, emotions were and continue to be explored not as anatural part
of social life but rather as factors to explain adeviation from rationality—
notwithstanding that such arational baseline needs to be dened in the rst
Isabella Hermann
place.2 Thus, while on the one side rational choice theorists try to come
to apredictive power by using rational assumptions, psychologists might
even nd it absurd that anyone would assume that individuals are rational
(McDermott 12–13). This has only started to change within the last 15
years or so with the so-called emotional turn in International Relations.
Hence, in relation to managing the boundary between “rationality
and “irrationality”—or let us say between good or bad decisions on the
political level—emotions can contribute to either. Equilibrium makes
it apparent that, when it comes to social peace, the problem of Libria is
not emotions but rather the systems that are trying to oppress emotions,
namely the dictatorial regime. To avoid a World War III and a negative
inuence of emotions on politics as has happened in the setting of the
lm we need strong political institutions and protective mechanisms.
This is the boundary between good and bad political decisions and not
emotions. Against this background, Equilibrium, made in 2002, must be
seen as acritical forerunner of the importance of the topic for the political
sphere. After all, the “Father” dictator is of course not taking the emotion-
suppressing drug—otherwise he probably would not have been capable of
making the “rational” decisions necessary to govern his country Libria.
CodE 46
Like Equilibrium, Code 46 also imagines a frightening future with
atotalitarian government. However, here this is presented not in the form of
astylish action spectacle but as apoetic science-ction romance with intense
images and music. However, the dystopian setting has quite a different
character since it is not as obvious as in Equilibrium but far more implicit,
if not even unknowable. The world presented at the beginning of Code 46
might even look rather positive, as a dream of many political scientists,
international analysts and global activists come true: the world is organized
as a quasi-world-state with a global supranational authority. People are
living independently of ethnic or cultural afliation all over the globe. The
movie is shot in English but there are permanently and naturally embedded
all kinds of references to Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic and Farsi which
are well understood by everyone in this future world. The movie mainly
takes place in the “megacity” Shanghai, which has not much in common
with the Chinese city as we know it, but serves rather as ametaphor for
a global melting pot resulting in a common human identity. How this
global rapprochement has taken place is not stated openly, yet the audience
2 This is criticized by Mercer (79), among others.
Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction
understands that scientic leaps in the elds of reproduction technologies
apparently occurred and that cloning played amajor part. According to the
logic of the lm, this technological advancement obliges the state authorities
to regulate the global community with diverse body-politics. The world is
ruled by certain codes restricting self-determination and one’s own physical
integrity. Since obviously there are so many clones, couples planning to have
achild need to get ofcial approval for their wish so as to preclude potential
incest. If there is some familial relation between the future parents then the
pregnancy will not only be terminated but the parents will also be treated
with memory liquidation or infection with personalized viruses in order to
avoid further sexual contact between them.
Other alarming facts are the damaged ecosystem. People are prohibited
to go out during daytime to avoid solar irradiation. Even more, travels are
regulated by restrictive visa policies to protect people from going to regions
where they lack immunity against certain diseases. Ayoung researcher dies
after being infected with adeadly virus traveling with acounterfeit visa to
“Delhi” because he was not issued alegal one. Visas are issued in acentralized
way by the authority “Sphinx” which literally indicates two facts: rstly
that, like the mythological sphinx, the ofcial authorities know alot more
about every individual person than the person themselves; secondly, that
by keeping this information the ofcial authorities secretly exert some
arcane power over the citizens with the aim of controlling them. In this
sense, Code 46 appears to be more disquieting than Equilibrium, because
the stark regulations of the global community do not attract suspicion
at rst sight. The protagonists—two lovers who will violate code 46—
can hang out in bars and clubs and have fun the entire night in Shanghai
without trouble. Moreover, the regulations seem necessary to protect
the humans from their own genetic incompatibilities and deciencies.
Yet the means are questionable, stretching from surveillance to surgical
procedures carried out without the knowledge or even the approval of the
person concerned.
The lm shows how the boundaries of our international system
are not lifted but rather shifted from being state borders to being new
hyper-individual ones dened by our genome. The main characteristic of
identifying aperson is not the national passport anymore as it is now, but
the genes. The places where people are allowed to travel are no longer
prescribed by the passport, but by asuperior authority based on individual
characteristics of the body. Even having children needs to be approved
ofcially since acouple might be related unknowingly—an aggravation of
Western laws according to which brothers and sisters are not allowed to have
children. In Code 46, national politics as the social-political organization
by the state was thus not substituted for aliberal global hierarchy as desired
Isabella Hermann
but for arestrictive globalized body politics control mechanism. However,
even worse, participation in this globalized world is again not open to all
people since there is another new boundary of the ones living inside the
megacities and the marginalized and excluded living outside of them in
slums and dangerous daylight without chances of social mobility. The lm
demonstrates that, even if restrictions given by nationality and passport
might be overcome, humans always create new precarious constraints, one
between inside and outside, and one dened by the genome.
ChildrEn of mEn
Children of Men is also adystopia; however, in contrast to the two lms
discussed above, it is characterized by astrong “reality ction” element
locating the story within a quite realistic setting. Thus, after having
accepted an initial rare event paving the way for extreme circumstances, the
plot advances in comprehensible ways, yet allowing our current political
and social problems to clearly resonate. The reality ction element is
strengthened by the use of long and complex tracking shots giving the
impression that we are in the scene as aparticipant, not as amere spectator.3
The movie is set in the near future England of 2027. The initial event
starting the storyline is that 20 years ago humanity was overcome by
aglobal epidemic of infertility reminiscent of abiblical plague. The lm
kicks off with the bad news that 18 year-old “Baby Diego”—until then the
youngest person on earth—has been shot dead by afanatical fan. Following
the camera from the news-monitor of afast-food-restaurant to the streets
of London demonstrates that major technological leaps have not occurred,
so life as we know it has not changed fundamentally. However, the city
looks extremely dilapidated. Clearly, London is no longer apopular tourist
destination. The global menace of infertility has not united humanity;
quite the contrary, it was the nal straw in the collapse of any cooperation
on the global level.
The permanent threat of terrorist acts by international Islamic
fundamentalists or domestic resistance groups, and the danger of
ecological decline, as well as ademographic development working towards
an extremely ageing population—which authorities try to manage by
means of legal suicide pills for the elderly—lead to ongoing riots and
revolts. Great Britain nds itself in acontinuous state of emergency, but
it still seems to be the only more or less functioning state left. This causes
3 This was further elaborated by director Alfonso Cuarón with his Academy
Award-winning Gravity.
Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction
enormous migration uxes to the country which the government tries to
combat with vast reception centers. All the scenes are directly reminiscent
of grievances of today and indeed even more in the year 2018 than when
the lm was released in 2006: rst and foremost, the sealing off of Western
states from illegal immigrants with Great Britain’s decision to leave the
European Union made in the 2016 referendum. But there are also links to
the detention camp in Guantánamo and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
The scenario legitimizes, or at least gives rise to a repressive “police
state” apparatus desperately trying to maintain law and order: the last
state helplessly ghts for internal and external sovereignty to preserve
the borders as we know them. The lm suggests that when it comes to
a comprehensive international crisis the boundary being managed might
actually be reduced to amere state border. Obviously, there is no functioning
inter- or supranational cooperation anymore; rather, each state is ghting
for its own survival. All other ethical and moral values are subordinated to
that objective. The initial assumption of neorealism that the international
anarchical order determines a self-help-system where international
cooperation is only of temporary duration has come true (Waltz). Children
of Men unmasks all our existing international agreements as mere illusions
belying the true mechanisms of our system: the war of all against all.
But perhaps there is hope for humanity, since in the end there is
apregnant woman. With her dark skin the movie—being full of all kinds
of historical, political and religious references—makes the point that
Africa was in fact the cradle of humanity. The West might thus reassess its
restrictive immigration policies. She makes her way to the “Human Project,”
aresearch facility in the Azores which is trying to nd a treatment for
global infertility, and which is apparently the last remnant of international
distriCt 9
Like Children of Men, District 9 is an example of reality ction. However,
the plot is not set in the future but takes place in an alternative present.
Again, arather odd initial event allows for anew perspective through
which to think about our political order: the classical alien encounter. The
authentic appearance of the lm is enforced by the use of hand cameras
making the watcher feel embedded as if following a documentary rather
than action lm.
The story begins in the year 1982 when an alien spaceship comes down
to earth and, after having suffered some technical defect, ends up hovering
right above the city of Johannesburg in South Africa. After awhile the
Isabella Hermann
humans decide to enter the spaceship and nd thousands of injured, sick and
frightened alien creatures. Like humans, they possess four extremities and
walk upright, but they are much bigger and have an appearance between an
insect and areptile; around their mouths they have even sh-like barbells.
This kind of perverse and distorted proximity to human appearance is
quite unsightly from ahuman viewpoint and makes it easier to segregate
them. Nobody knows what to do with the large number of uninvited,
but intelligent, guests, so the “prawns”—as they are pejoratively called—
are settled in the provisional “District 9” camp. After this prologue the
actual storyline takes place more than 25 years later in the then present of
2009. The aliens still living in District 9, which has turned into aneglected
and precarious ghetto-like place, eke out a miserable and degenerated
existence. Their life is marked by the criminal and black market activities of
South Africans who exploit their desperate situation. Order is maintained
more or less by “Multinational United” (MNU), anot further specied
private organization/corporation permeated by xenophobic staff. They
are preparing aresettlement of the aliens to District 10 which is located
200 kilometers outside of Johannesburg. Naturally, MNU pursues more
lucrative objectives by trying to access the modern weapon technologies of
the aliens which only work in combination with their alien DNA.4
The parallels being drawn with the help of the extreme image of the
alien other are apparent: the ruthless MNU reminds us of the highly
criticized private security providers engaged by the U.S. during the course
of the 2003 Iraq War and not abiding by international law. Obviously,
in the movie, there is neither an international outcry nor an inclusive
international organization taking care of this problem. Has the UN been
substituted for an agency without scruples? Or is it simply uninterested,
powerless or riveted by the disagreement of its members? In any case
this makes us think about the fatal inactiveness of the UN in Rwanda in
1994, or currently in Somalia and Syria and many other places, leading to
unspeakable atrocities. Setting the story in South African Johannesburg
alludes not only to the crimes committed by the Apartheid Regime; it also
shows that history is just repeating itself like avicious circle: according to
the lm, the South African Apartheid System between humans was just
replaced by anew one between humans and aliens. Is it just an inherent
part of human nature to always discriminate against an out-group? The
aliens are thereby a metaphor for all the excluded and marginalized
people worldwide, and very concretely for the hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians living in huge refugee camps in Yemen or Jordan with little
4 Why the aliens do not use their weapons for an uprising will remain the
central aw of the movie.
Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction
prospect of a better future. Remarkable in this sense is a scene in the
movie of human activists protesting for “human rights” for the intelligent
aliens which raises questions about what it means to be human, as well as
where humanity begins and ends. Consequently, the genetic humans act
inhumanely, whereas the main character, Vikus van der Merwe, after being
infected with avirus that transforms him into an alien, appears even more
humane in his metamorphosis.
Of crucial importance is also apoint which is not even mentioned in
the lm, but which conveys ahopeless message for humanity in its banality:
District 9 lacks the global impact of apossible alien contact which could
have at least united the humans and led to the establishment of acommon
human identity.5 Contrary to the utopian setting of Star Trek where the
rst contact with the Vulcans united the “human race,” the alien contact
in District 9 is absolutely limited to South Africa. In this country and, by
extension, the rest of the world, suppression between humans is going on
as ever, independent of the spectacular spaceship hovering above the city
of Johannesburg. The direct contact with the alien other has not provoked
any effect for apositive development of humanity; on the contrary, it has
made humans look all the more brutal and savage.6
This paper argued that boundary management and dealings with
otherness were fundamental themes in SF lms providing, at the same
time, amirror of our current social and political problematics. As one can
see, the analyzed lms project our fears into afuture or alternative setting
where theoretically anything could be possible. However, the lms are
acritical discourse about our current political reality and problematics
against the backdrop of “anew age” dating back to 2000 and the new
political global setting after the attacks of 9/11. In Equilibrium we see
absolute surveillance in atotalitarian system creating an articial divide
between emotions and rationality. In Code 46 an apparently liberal world-
state has developed but it is one with disturbing totalitarian distortions
substituting the national border for an even more precarious genetic
one. Children of Men confronts us with ademographic and ecological
collapse leading to the breakdown of international cooperation and an
5 Alexander Wendt claims that an alien contact might be away to develop
acommon human identity (389).
6 Interesting in this regard is the book by Albert A. Harrison about possible
human responses to an alien contact.
Isabella Hermann
overemphasizing of national borders, while in District 9 a seemingly
independent and non-legitimized organization exploits and marginalizes
an out-group of aliens.
Each of these lms presents a different dystopian setting where
questions of human identity and body politics play an important role
showing up in the form of current national and international problematics
as, for example, total surveillance and segregation. However, these are
not only the fears of our current reality, but also those of the human
political and social condition in general. We always were and always will
be concerned about the other beyond the known border or be afraid of an
authority exerting absolute power. In this way, since SF serves as alooking
glass magnifying our problems, it invites us to think about and discuss
as yet unarticulated issues, making it possible to nd ways to deal with
real potential problems in the future. Geoffrey Whitehall appropriately
summarizes this perspective when describing SF as the “genre of the
beyond” (172). Hence, SF enables us as social scientists to think out of
the box when discussing current and future challenges initiated by social
developments and technological progress. SF can also be an inspiration for
policymakers aiming to create abetter world by implementing necessary
regulations, ghting inequality, and, nally, trying to overcome our real
and imagined boundaries.
WorkS cIted
Arnswald, Ulrich, and Hans-Peter Schütt. Thomas Morus’ Utopia und
das Genre der Utopie in der Politischen Philosophie. Karlsruhe: KIT
Scientic Publishing, 2010. Print.
Buzan, Barry. “America in Space: The International Relations of Star Trek
and Battlestar Galactica.” Millennium. Journal of International Studies
39.1 (2010): 175–80. Print.
Children of Men. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. Perf. Julianne Moore, Clive Owen.
Universal Studios, 2006. Film.
Code 46. Dir. Michael Winterbottom. Perf. Samantha Morton, Tim
Robbins. BBC, 2003. Film.
District 9. Dir. Neill Blomkamp. Perf. Jason Cope, Sharlto Copley. TriStar
Pictures, 2009. Film.
Equilibrium. Dir. Kurt Wimmer. Perf. Christian Bale, Emily Watson.
Miramax Films, 2002. Film.
Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Grosz, Elizabeth. Space, Time, and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of
Bodies. New York: Routledge, 1995. Print.
Boundaries and Otherness in Science Fiction
Harrison, Albert A. After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial
Life. New York: Perseus, 2002. Print.
Hobsbawm, E. J. Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth,
Reality. New York: Cambridge UP, 1992. Print.
Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of
World Order. New York: Simon, 1996. Print.
Kiersey, Nicholas J., and Iver B. Neumann. “Introduction: Circulating
on Board the Battlestar.” “Battlestar Galactica” and International
Relations. Ed. Nicholas J. Kiersey and Iver B. Neumann. New York:
Routledge, 2013. 1–17. Print.
Kuhn, Annette, ed. Alien Zone. London: Verso, 1990. Print.
---, ed. Alien Zone II. London: Verso, 1999. Print.
McDermott, Rose. Political Psychology International Relations. Ann Arbor:
Uof Michigan P, 2004. Print.
Mercer, Jonathan. “Rationality and Psychology in International Politics.”
International Organizations 59.1 (2005): 77–106. Print.
Neumann, Iver B. “Grab aPhaser, Ambassador: Diplomacy in Star Trek.”
Millennium. Journal of International Studies 30.3 (2001): 603–24.
Nexon, Daniel H., and Iver B. Neumann. Harry Potter and International
Relations. Oxford: Rowman, 2006. Print.
Sontag, Susan. “The Imagination of Disaster.” Commentary Magazine 1
Oct.1965. Web. 30 June 2018.
Stein, Janice Gross. “Foreign Policy Decision-making. Rational,
Psychological, and Neurological Models.” Foreign Policy: Theories,
Actors, Cases. Ed. Steve Smith and Tim Dunne. Oxford: Oxford UP,
2008. Print.
Tajfel, Henri. Social Identity and Intergroup Relations. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
---. “Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations.” Annual Review of
Psychology 33.1 (1982): 1–39. Print.
---, and John Turner. “The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior.”
Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Ed. Stephen Worchel and W. G.
Austin. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1986. 7–24. Print.
Waltz, Kenneth. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill,
1979. Print.
Weldes, Jutta. “Popular Culture, Science Fiction, and World Politics:
Exploring Intertextual Relations.” To Seek Out New Worlds: Science
Fiction and World Politics. Ed. Jutta Weldes. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2003. 1–20. Print.
Wendt, Alexander. “Collective Identity Formation and the International
State.” American Political Science Review (1994): 384–96. Print.
Isabella Hermann
Whitehall, Geoffrey. “The Problem of the ‘World and Beyond’:
Encountering ‘the Other’ in Science Fiction.” To Seek Out New
Worlds: Science Fiction and World Politics. Ed. Jutta Weldes. New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 169–93. Print.
Isabella Hermann is apolitical scientist by training.
She holds a PhD in International Relations where she specialized in
international respect and status issues using constructivist and discourse
analytical research designs. Having always been fascinated by the socio-
political impact of new technologies, she also started to publish and give
talks about science ction and (global) politics. Right now, technologies
such as smart machines, which have formerly been labelled science
ction, are becoming reality—and so are ethical concerns of applying
them. Therefore, Isabella Hermann is now a research coordinator of the
interdisciplinary research group “Responsibility: Machine Learning and
Articial Intelligence” at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and
Humanities in Berlin. The project explores the ethical challenges regarding
AI systems and it will elaborate on recommendations for dealing with the
new technologies in apositive way.
... So, first and foremost, SF films should be analysed metaphorically, as a critical commentary on socio-political aspects beyond technology 4 . In this sense, Ex Machina is about suppression and deception in a "male-dominated libertarian world where women are still seen as window dressing for sales booths" 5 and intelligent women like Ava -not robots -are perceived as a threat. ...
Full-text available
Science-fiction (SF) has become a reference point in the discourse on the ethics and risks surrounding artificial intelligence (AI). Thus, AI in SF—science-fictional AI—is considered part of a larger corpus of ‘AI narratives’ that are analysed as shaping the fears and hopes of the technology. SF, however, is not a foresight or technology assessment, but tells dramas for a human audience. To make the drama work, AI is often portrayed as human-like or autonomous, regardless of the actual technological limitations. Taking science-fictional AI too literally, and even applying it to science communication, paints a distorted image of the technology's current potential and distracts from the real-world implications and risks of AI. These risks are not about humanoid robots or conscious machines, but about the scoring, nudging, discrimination, exploitation, and surveillance of humans by AI technologies through governments and corporations. AI in SF, on the other hand, is a trope as part of a genre-specific mega-text that is better understood as a dramatic means and metaphor to reflect on the human condition and socio-political issues beyond technology.
Science-fiction (SF) provides much-sought inspiration on both methodologies and perspectives for IR in the Anthropocene. SF’s thought experiments can reveal or provide insights into the possibilities of alternative futures. SF approaches can thus be seen as a method of opening up our thinking of the human condition. This is often mediated through two main frames of reference: firstly, humanity seen through the lens of technological advance and geo-engineering dreams of control and manipulation of nature; and secondly, via the establishment of (global) governments and hierarchical structures suppressing the people, on the one hand, and of global corporations putting financial interest ahead of that of the planet, on the other hand—both being a threat to human and non-human inhabitants.
Eric Hobsbawm's brilliant enquiry into the question of nationalism won further acclaim for his 'colossal stature … his incontrovertible excellence as an historian, and his authoritative and highly readable prose'. Recent events in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics have since reinforced the central importance of nationalism in the history of political evolution and upheaval. This second edition has been updated in the light of those events, with a final chapter addressing the impact of the dramatic changes that have taken place. It also includes additional maps to illustrate nationalities, languages and political divisions across Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
This chapter flows from the assertion that the enabling foundational myths of modern world politics have been exceeded, and that an adequate conception of the political, one that is capable of dealing with this profound, yet cliché, condition of indeterminacy, contingency, and change, has yet to be generated. “The problem of the world and beyond” represents an epistemological and ontological crisis whereby contemporary events are exceeding the conventional categories of understanding and action in modern politics. Instead of further denying “the problem of the world and beyond” and offering its eternal reification, simulation, and the violence that follows, this chapter explores alternative ways of dealing with the condition of being (or becoming) beyond the limits of modern thought and action. My highest concern is that political responses to “the problem of the world and beyond,” contemporary failings of security, are nothing short of fanatic attempts to contain movement, deny change, and ignore anything that is different.
Why examine science fiction if we are interested in world politics? On the face of it, there seems to be little relation between the two. World politics, common sense tells us, is first and foremost about life-and-death issues: war and peace, ethnic cleansing and genocide, the global spread of AIDS, refugees, natural disasters, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and counter-terrorism, global trafficking in arms, drugs, and human beings, famines, free trade, rapacious corporations, globalization. World politics is serious business; it is difficult policy choices and intractable differences of opinion in “a domain of hard truths, material realities, and irrepressible natural facts” (Ó Tuathail and Agnew, 1992: 192).
Popular culture can be used as a mirror to reflect on how societies think about themselves. Here Star Trek and the recent version of Battlestar Galactica are used to reflect on how America views its own destiny, its relationship to technology and its place in the universe. Space and ‘final frontiers’ are particularly resonant in American culture, and these two television series provide numerous benchmarks by which to contrast the optimistic and outgoing America of the 1960s with the darker and more paranoid America of post-9/11. Can an America that has given up the goal of returning to the moon still claim to own the future, and is the US becoming inward- and backward-looking — a new Middle Kingdom?