Alternate Narratives and Reclaimed Imaginaries

Alternate Narratives and Reclaimed Imaginaries: Speculative and Science Fiction in Comparative and International Education (Malka Older, Tricia M. Kress, Casper Bruun Jensen, Karen Mundy as discussant, and Euan Auld & Francine Menashy as moderators) 

APRIL 22, 2020

Advances in technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and big data are projected to radically alter the futures of societies and education. At the same time, Anthropocene discourses have provoked claims that it is no longer possible to imagine a future without cataclysmic climate change. The twin impacts of disruptive technology and climate catastrophe increasingly challenge human exceptionalism and spur a rethinking of current development trajectories. Mainstream critique has thus far struggled to radically reimagine the status quo (i.e. neoliberal governance and economic growth), suggesting the necessity of embracing different analytical and imaginative tools. To this end, this session invites participants to reclaim imagination, drawing on speculative and science fiction (SF) to understand and inform comparative and international education, and awaken ‘our capacity to feel that there are other ways for a world to exist’ (Stengers 2018, 9).

Departing from the ideal of objectivity that has characterised much research in the social sciences, panellists draw inspiration from various sub-genres of SF across societies to explore alternate narratives and imaginaries, rearticulating the boundaries between what is ‘fictive’ and ‘real’ in more expansive ways. This ‘speculative turn’ is not as radical as it may at first seem. SF worlds can be understood as thought experiments, or laboratories of virtual futures (Brin 2016), and scholars in anthropology, philosophy, and science and technology studies (STS) have all turned to SF as a resource for both thinking about the future and rethinking current social and political arrangements. Scholars from the field of comparative and international education can similarly reimagine society and schooling through the lens of speculative and science fiction narratives. As the author Ursula Le Guin (1989) has pointed out, though SF is a “strange realism,” reality is also strange.

Referencing SF literature generally, or drawing from a specific piece, panellists will address the following questions:

  • In what ways might science fiction—often understood as thought experiments or laboratories of virtual futures—contribute to scholarship in comparative and international education? For example, how might fictional representations of AI, big data, impacts of climate change, and so forth, be applied to comparative education research?
  • How might SF narratives that utilize the tropes of utopia/dystopia offer a basis for rethinking current political and educational trajectories? For example, how might SF inform ways to address, through policy and practice, the rise of AI and digital technology in education, and/or climate catastrophe?


Malka Older is a writer, aid worker, and sociologist. Her science-fiction political thriller Infomocracy was named one of the best books of 2016 by Kirkus, Book Riot, and the Washington Post. With the sequels Null States (2017) and State Tectonics (2018), she completed the Centenal Cycle trilogy, a finalist for the Hugo Best Series Award of 2018. She is also the creator of the serial Ninth Step Station, currently running on Serial Box, and her short story collection And Other Disasters comes out in November 2019. Named Senior Fellow for Technology and Risk at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs for 2015, she is currently an Affiliated Research Fellow at the Center for the Sociology of Organizations at Sciences Po, where her doctoral work explored the dynamics of post-disaster improvisation in governments. She has more than a decade of field experience in humanitarian aid and development, and has written for the The New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, and NBC THINK.

Tricia M. Kress is an Associate Professor in the Educational Leadership for Diverse Learning Communities Ed.D. program at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, NY, USA.  Her research uses critical pedagogy, cultural sociology, and auto/ethnography to rethink teaching, learning and research in urban schools in the US. She is co-editor of the book series Imagination and Praxis: Criticality and Creativity in Education and Educational Research with Brill/Sense Publishers and Transformative Imaginings: Critical Visions for the Past-Present-Future of Education for DIO Press.  She co-editor of Paulo Freire’s Intellectual Roots: Toward Historicity in Praxis (edited with Robert Lake) which received the Society of Professors of Education 2014 Book Award.  She is also the Chair of the Paulo Freire Special Interest Group for the American Educational Research Association.

Casper Bruun Jensen is an anthropologist of science and technology currently residing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is the author of Ontologies for Developing Things (Sense, 2010) and Monitoring Movements in Development Aid (with Brit Ross Winthereik) (2013, MIT) and the editor of Deleuzian Intersections: Science, Technology, Anthropology with Kjetil Rödje (Berghahn, 2009) and Infrastructures and Social Complexity with Penny Harvey and Atsuro Morita (Routledge, 2016). His work focuses on climates, environments, infrastructures, and practical ontologies.

Karen Mundy (discussant) is Professor of International and Comparative Education at the University of Toronto (cross appointed to the Munk School of Global and Public Affairs). Her research has covered the global politics of “education for all”; educational policy and reform in Sub-Saharan Africa; and the role of civil society organizations in educational change.  In 2019, Professor Mundy was appointed to UNESCO’s Futures of Education Commission.

Euan Auld (moderator) is Assistant Professor at The Education University of Hong Kong. He holds a PhD in International and Comparative Education & Policy Studies from the UCL Institute of Education. His research to date has focused primarily on international large-scale assessments and their influence on education research and governance, drawing on philosophical perspectives and narrative theory.