Call for Papers – Wicked Problems and Speculative Futures: Writing the Anthropocene

6 December 2021

The Centre for Critical and Creative Writing (CCCW) is calling for papers for the 2022 Symposium – Wicked Problems and Speculative Futures: Writing the Anthropocene.


Timothy Morton has termed global warming a wicked problem, ‘one you can rationally diagnose but to which there is no feasible rational solution’ (2016: 36). For Morton, living in the Anthropocene comes with an uncanny knowing – a ‘weird weirdness’ – underpinning our awareness that this wicked problem is one of our own making. Theatre scholars Carl Lavery and Clare Finburgh have gone so far as to suggest that this wicked problem is an Absurd one – ‘Absurd’ with a capital ‘A’ – calling for a rethinking and a ‘greening’ of the Theatre of the Absurd. According to their analysis, we are once again, like our post-war forebears, living in existential times, and need to re-read that movement through the eco-critical lens of the present. Morton’s sense that we are living in uncanny times of weather, indeed of a planet and its behaviour – that is at once deeply familiar but behaving deeply strangely lends itself also to a Gothic reading of literature, theatre, film, and visual art depicting the Anthropocene. After all, we are living in a period where we are reaping what we have sown since we first started pumping carbon into our atmosphere. The return of the repressed is erupting into the present with violent force in the form of climate catastrophe. So how are our artists and critical theorists engaging with the climate change and its material effects? What are the most appropriate literary forms and genres to be tackling the issue, and how are artists bending them to their own needs in the twenty-first century? In short, how do we write the Anthropocene?

The CCCW is very proud to announce that keynote speeches will be provided by international climate fiction theorist Professor Adeline Johns-Putra (Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China) and internationally-acclaimed Australian novelist James Bradley. We will also host a special in-conversation-with session between Noongar speculative writer Claire G. Coleman and UQ’s Professor Kim Wilkins, and another with journalist-activists Garry and Anne Charnock and UQ’s Dr Helen Marshall.

Presented in partnership with UQ Art Museum’s Blue Assembly, an ambitious multi-year program exploring our relationship with the ocean by gathering “blue” approaches to research. Blue Assembly aims to upend our assumptions about the ocean, its role in human life, and its future in the hope that we might inform policy around climate and the future of global communities.”

SUPERFLEX, Dive-In, 2019. Dive–In was originally commissioned by Desert X in collaboration TBA21–Academy with music composed by Dark Morph (Jónsi and Carl Michael von Hausswolff). Courtesy of Desert X. Photo: Lance Gerber

Questions that arise here include: How do we portray or speculate about the future in literature, theatre, film and visual art in uncanny times, where the present is more alarming than some of the direst of future predictions have been? Are we living in a futuristic Gothic dystopia, or is there hope that this is a wicked problem that we can fix? How do we solve it through art? How do we map the ways in which the Anthropocene has been portrayed in cli fi across the twenty first century? As we move from Kyoto to the Paris Agreement to the Glasgow Climate Pact, how is the artistic response to the Anthropocene tracking? Towards ever-more dystopic depictions of doom, or to cautious narratives of hope? Is there a pragmatic in-between?

We invite individual proposals from critical and creative writers for 20 minute papers that address the following themes, topics and questions as they pertain to the wicked problem of writing the Anthropocene:

  • Droughts and floods: the absence and/or the omnipresence of cli-fi narratives on page, stage, screen and gallery
  • Narratives of hope vs narratives of doom
  • Dystopia/Armageddon fatigue
  • Environmental rhetoric in the Anthropocene
  • Technical communication and wicked problems
  • The ethics of speculation in an age of fake news
  • The limits, opportunities and obligations of naturalism
  • Writing speculative futures in a time where ‘the future’ is intruding into/become the present 
  • World building and techniques for describing the future
  • Science writing on the Anthropocene
  • The Anthropocene and colonialism
  • The Anthropocene and race
  • Art and the real world: collaborations between artists, scientists and activists
  • The cottagecore movement and the aesthetics/ethics of everyday living 
  • Gothic pasts and futures

Abstracts due by  14 February 2022.

Acceptances issued by  28 February 2022.

Symposium Dates: 22-23 June, 2022

Venue: St Lucia Campus and online by the University of Queensland (UQ)

Cost of symposium Free

The Centre for Critical and Creative Writing aims not only to champion and celebrate Australian writing in all of its many forms, but to lead important national debate around questions of representation, opportunity, and identity. We particularly welcome applications from scholars and practitioners traditionally under-represented in higher education, or whose voices are under-represented amongst the range of those we have identified in the above symposium description.

Send proposals and queries in the first instance to: Associate Professor Stephen Carleton, Director of the Centre for Critical and Creative Writing

Indicative Reading List:

Bradley, James. Ghost Species. Hamish Hamilton, 2020.

Coleman, Claire G. Terra Nullius. Hachette, 2017.

Freestone, Elizabeth and Jeanie O’Hare. 100 Plays to Save the World. Nick Hern, 2021.

Johns-Putra, Adeline, ed. Climate and Literature. Cambridge UP, 2019.

Lavery, Carl and Finburgh, Clare, eds. Rethinking the Theatre of the Absurd: Ecology, the Environment and the Greening of the Modern Stage. Bloomsbury, 2015.

Morton, Timothy. Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence. Columbia UP, 2016.

Scranton, Roy. Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilisation. City Lights Publishers, 2015.

Taylor, Melanie Benson. “Indigenous Interruptions in the Anthropocene.” PMLA, vol. 136, no. 1, 2021, pp. 9-16.

Todd, Zoe. “Indigenizing the Anthropocene.” Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. Edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, Open Humanities Press, 2015, pp. 241-254.