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Danish Center for Welfare Studies

Finding time in common: Speculative fiction and the precariat in Robinson's New York 2140

Author: Bryan Yazell
Published: in Precarity in Contemporary Literature and Culture (edited by Emily J. Hogg and Peter Simonsen)

This paper attends to precarity as the subject of speculative fiction, a genre that is often neglected in critical discussions of the precariat even as speculative texts frequently depict precarious life. While interested in the genre in general, this essay turns to Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (2017) in particular, which depicts the precariat after another century of neoliberalism and climate change. Setting his narrative in the future—in apocalyptic times that nonetheless resemble our own—Robinson demonstrates how the genre glosses the present by way of extrapolation and amplification of ongoing societal trends. However, this speculative framing does more than register unease; it imagines a scenario in which the precariat come together in solidarity and enact radical policy changes to address inequality. Robinson’s narrative thus clarifies how the nuanced temporal framing inherent to speculative fiction—stories set in the future that find parallels with the present in the past—can overcome what Guy Standing sees as the temporal alienation that prevents precariat solidarity. Connecting utopia with theorizations of the precariat, this essay ultimately affirms speculative fiction’s contributions to the emerging field of precarity literature.

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