Anthropology Through Speculative Fiction

Photo of a woman in a baseball cap holding a bright yellow sign reading "THIS is what an illegal alien looks like!", with a sketch of a green bug-eyed alien next to a flying saucer.

Speculative fiction explores interactions between humans and "aliens", often in a fantastic setting. (Photo by victoriabernal on Flickr.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Fall 2009



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Course Features

Course Description

This class examines how anthropology and speculative fiction (SF) each explore ideas about culture and society, technology, morality, and life in "other" worlds. We investigate this convergence of interest through analysis of SF in print, film, and other media. Concepts include traditional and contemporary anthropological topics, including first contact; gift exchange; gender, marriage, and kinship; law, morality, and cultural relativism; religion; race and embodiment; politics, violence, and war; medicine, healing, and consciousness; technology and environment. Thematic questions addressed in the class include: what is an alien? What is "the human"? Could SF be possible without anthropology?

Erica James, and Stefan Helmreich. 21A.270 Anthropology Through Speculative Fiction, Fall 2009. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

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