Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Steampunk Postcoloniality

If you haven't been following STEAMED!'s Steampunkapalooza, I've got a post up there talking a bit about my work. Here's a bit:

Steampunk, from the outside, looks like it’s all about Empire, you know? Charles Stross, famous very important science fiction literary figure, had a rant about it, which I think really points to two things: the ignorance of someone who’s not involved deeply in steampunk, and the impression steampunk is giving outsiders. 
The first is easily ignored, or would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that shit like Stross’ rant makes us look bad, no matter how into steampunk we are. Steampunks glorify Empire, and Stross has the clout to spread this impression far and wide. We should be concerned about this. 
We should also be concerned about the fact that this impression is one of the first that strangers and newcomers to steampunk get. Ask any one steampunk to define the genre, what do we get? Very often, the following words are part of the phrase: “19th century,” “Victorian,” “England.”


  1. One of the challenges is that steampunk is embedded in two genres (SF and fantasy) both of which tend to portray empire in positive terms. There are numerous examples of this in the literature.

    Also, in the case of the colonizer, imperialism is more often acknowledged from a distance rather than to owned up to in the moment (i.e., "We used to do that, we don't do it now"). For example, in 25 years, will the Western European and US intervention in Libya be described as colonialism/neo-colonialism/imperialism, or as some form of "humanitarian intervention", as the Great Powers describe it now?

  2. Oh, that would also depend on who's calling the shots in describing the intervention. With the rise of subaltern / postcolonial studies (as well as shifting changes in how history and anthropology are approached and taken up) I would hope that the currents which criticize the interventions as neo-colonialism are recorded, alongside the current "but we don't do that anymore!" sentiments, for future posterity, making it harder to deny the complicity of the Great Powers now. It would also make more visible the problems of the now for the future. That's why it's so important for those who benefit from colonization to be able to acknowledge these conversations, in order to make it harder to brush off current forms of colonialism.