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Title: The culture of ‘the Culture’: utopian processes in Iain M. Banks’s space opera series
Authors: Norman, Joseph S
Advisors: Hubble, N
Tew, P
Keywords: Science fiction;Imperialism;Posthumanism;Gender
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Brunel University London
Abstract: This thesis provides a comprehensive critical analysis of Iain M. Banks’s Culture series, ten science fiction (SF) texts concerned with the Culture, Banks’s vision of his “personal utopia”: Consider Phlebas (1987), The Player of Games (1988), Use of Weapons (1990), The State of the Art (1991), Excession (1996), Inversions (1998), Look to Windward (2000), Matter (2008), Surface Detail (2010), and The Hydrogen Sonata (2012). I place this series within the context of the space opera sub-genre, and – drawing upon a critical toolkit developed by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. in The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (2008) – I explore the extent to which Banks achieved his goal of reshaping the sub-genre for the political Left. Due to the complexity and ambiguity of Banks’s creation, this research addresses the central question: what is the Culture? I argue that the Culture constitutes a utopian variation of Csicsery- Ronay’s technologiade, challenging the notion that Banks’s creation represents an empire or imperialist project. I consider the Culture as a culture: peoples linked by a shared value system and way of life; a method of development and nurturing; a system of utopian processes. Drawing on Archaeologies of the Future (2005), I argue that the Culture series demonstrates Frederic Jameson’s notion of ‘thinking the break’, with Banks’s writing constantly affirming the possibility and desirability of radical sociopolitical change. I identify six key radical moves away from the nonutopian present – characterised as shifts, breaks or apocalypses – which form the Culture’s utopianprocesses, with each chapter exploring the extent to which the Culture has overcome a fundamental obstacle impeding the path to utopia. The Culture has moved beyond material scarcity, alienated labour, capitalism, and the class-system, maintaining State functions. Culture citizens are notable for significantly adapting their own bodies and minds – controlling senescence and ultimately death itself – but motivated by the desire to improve rather than transcend their humanity. The Culture has achieved a form of equality between the sexes and removed patriarchy, yet is still coping with the implications of sex and gender fluidity. Despite relying upon seemingly quasi-religious innovations, the Culture is entirely secular, having moved beyond any kind of religious or faith-based worldview. Finally, the Culture is perhaps an example of what Jameson has called ‘the death of art’, as creative and artistic practice seems to have become part of everyday life, which contrasts with the numerous artworks produced on its margins.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy and was awarded by Brunel University London
Appears in Collections:English and Creative Writing
Dept of Arts and Humanities Theses

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