Researcher in Focus: Dr Will Slocombe

Posted on: 12 October 2021 by Nick Jones in 2021 Posts

Dr Will Slocombe

Our featured researcher of the month is Dr Will Slocombe, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English whose work focusses on science fiction as a repository of imagined social techniques and technologies, and ideologically-encoded visions of the future.

Dr Will Slocombe is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Co-Director of the Olaf Stapledon Centre for Speculative Futures. He joined Liverpool in 2014 after lecturing at Aberystwyth University, where he completed his PhD, and a stint as an independent writer and researcher. His research interests are wide-ranging, but tend to focus on how narratives manifest particular concepts, most recently through examining science fiction a) in terms of representations of Artificial Intelligence and b) as a tool for thinking about the future.

Will started out as a postmodernist and literary theorist, writing his PhD and first monograph on 'Nihilism and the Sublime Postmodern', and publishing research on games studies and new media narratology, as well as guest-editing a special issue of 'Genre'. However, joining Liverpool gave him the opportunity to re-vivify science fiction provision and identify ways of developing one of the University’s unique features – the largest catalogued collection of science fiction materials in Europe held at Special Collections and Archives.

As a result, although Will remains interested in cultural concepts, this has become inflected towards considering science fiction as a repository of imagined social techniques and technologies, and ideologically-encoded visions of the future. For example, a recent 'Osiris' piece explored the history of science and technology via ‘technology trees’ in videogames and, with Barry Dainton and Attila Tanyi, he has just published a major edited collection on the intersection of philosophy, science fiction, and AI: 'Minding the Future'. His forthcoming monograph, Emergent Patterns, examines the ways in which AI technologies have been represented in science fiction and interrogates what that means for how the concept is used (and misused) more widely.

In exploring the utility of science fiction, Will’s work has recently moved into knowledge exchange. In the last five years, an increased appetite to explore new ways of thinking the future has become apparent, as organisations and government departments move beyond more traditional foresight and planning methods to consider different perspectives and approaches. Through this, Will has been lucky enough to work on a range of futures projects, ranging from defence and security to the environment, education, and the automotive industry. With humanities colleagues from two other institutions (a classicist and a Germanist), he wrote a piece on these practices, and together the authors co-founded FLiNT: Futures Literacy through Narrative, an academic consortium that helps various organisations to develop their futures practices, and uses this to demonstrate the value of subjects that people too often dismiss as being ‘just about made-up worlds’.

Do feel free chat to him about possibilities for collaboration, or about any AI narrative (in case he hasn’t heard about it), ‘Outside Context Problems’, and futures and futures literacy. If you do chat with him, don’t say (unless you want a lecture): ‘Science fiction is just about made-up worlds’.

 Find out more about Will and his work on his staff page.

Keywords: Researcher in Focus.