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World-building: Calvino, Ethnography and Science Fiction by Professor Lise...

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Queen's University Belfast

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World-building: Calvino, Ethnography and Science Fiction by Professor Lisette Josephides, Queen's University Belfast -AAI closing keynote and public lecture


During the summer of 1985 Italo Calvino, the Italian journalist and writer of both realist and fantasy fiction, was preparing a series of lectures to be delivered at Harvard University. He died before he could finish them, and they were published in 1988 as ‘Six Memos for the new Millennium’. Looking back on the millennium drawing to a close, Calvino devoted his talks to ‘certain values or qualities or peculiarities of literature’, ‘in an effort to situate them with a view to the new millennium’. He considered how the virtues of the literature of the past shape the values of the future, under the following chapter headings: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity; and the sixth, with just a title ghost-written, constancy. The role of the imagination in world building underlay all the chapters. In this presentation I will consider how these concepts can be seen as essential to world-building in ethnography and science fiction.

Lisette Josephides is Professor of Anthropology at Queen’s University Belfast, having previously taught at the University of Papua New Guinea, the London School of Economics and the University of Minnesota. She trained in anthropology and philosophy and conducted lengthy fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. Her books include The Production of Inequality (1985), Melanesian Odysseys (2008), We the Cosmopolitans (2014, co-editor A. Hall), Knowledge and Ethics in Anthropology (2015) and The Ethics of Knowledge Creation (2017, co-editor A.G. Gronseth). She also published the essay ‘Imagining the future: an existential and practical activity’ (in Future selves in the Pacific, edited W. Rollason, 2014). Her current research interests include narrative and self theory, cosmopolitanism and moral philosophy, knowledge and the philosophy of technology, and the imagination and world-building in ethnography and science fiction.

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