David J. Goff

Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Greg Forter


Human industrial and economic activity around the world—happening either directly in the global North (recall the coal-choked London of Dickens) or, increasingly, in (un)developing nations of the global South because of the North’s demand— has burned and pumped so much CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that climate has noticeably changed even over the span of a single generation. As long as the world and its people are held in the clutches of the hegemonic capitalist politico-economic system, the environment will continue to degrade, and so will life for all the people of Earth, especially those most vulnerable. Though the outlook seems dire, and for good reason, the world can be vastly improved. We can imagine alternative futures in which a greater majority of humans are safe and secure, getting all or most of their needs and wants; a future in which we benefit by living alongside the environment as an equal, rather than simply using it as a tool to a capitalist end: we can construct an environmentalist society using the core of Nersessian’s Utopia, Limited. Here I discuss through a socio-ecocritical lens three desert societies: two from SF novels—Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and, to a lesser extent, Robinson’s Blue Mars—, and one real instance of an explicitly environmentally and socially utopian project still in the works today: Arcosanti. These examples demonstrate imagined future alternatives to the current hegemonic capitalist structure of our world; all three are exercises in how human society can progress and improve under the tenets of a purposefully limited utopia; and all three, importantly, present real ways in which a society that’s moved past capitalism can benefit people while (indeed because) it cooperates with the environment. These examples show that by incorporating into our laws and customs rights for nature itself, we can more faithfully ensure the protection of a sensitive and ever-changing environment and better lives and futures for the vulnerable human population. By engaging ecocritically and socio-politically with SF literature, we can imagine ways in which we as humans can move beyond the current hegemony of capital and the social and environmental damages it causes toward something more ideal, more egalitarian, more like utopia.