Article InformationEdit

Title: On the performativity of science-fiction: A semiotic approach to the development of virtual worlds

Author(s): Jean Béhue Guetteville

Affiliation: Ecole Polytechnique

Presented At: STiS 2008

Primary Topic Area: S&T Studies


Science-fiction is more than ever of interest for science and technology studies. For some years, an exploration of the imaginary roots of technologies has shed light on science-fiction projections. Far from being pure fantasy, it seems widely acknowledged that the tales of science-fiction can pave the way for the future. And science-fiction writers are nowadays collaborating with federal agencies on technological forecasts. But few studies have analyzed how and to what extent science-fiction books can influence the development of technologies, and more generally, reality.

The development of virtual worlds, such as World of Warcraft or Second Life, is an interesting case. Both the developers (Ondrejka, 2004) and the specialists in science studies (Flichy, 2001) have identified their origins in the imaginary “cyberworlds”, invented by the cyberpunk novelists. Capitalizing on this first results, the paper aims at exploring the process by which sci-fi novels have influenced the development of technological systems. The study will mainly focus on “Solipsis”, a peer-to-peer virtual reality-based system designed at Orange Labs.

While proposing a semiotic approach to the development of virtual worlds, the paper will explore the logical and rhetorical dimensions of the cyberpunk literature, and their relations to readers. It will analyze what kind of representations cyberpunk literature has conveyed, how it could have been interpreted, and to what extent it could have influenced the action of readers. As so, it will explore the potential performativity of science-fiction literature (Austin, 1962, Pickering, 1995, Butler, 1997, Callon, 1998, MacKenzie et al., 2007).

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