Critical Worldbuilding: The Politics and Promises of Speculative Media

Anne McCaffrey. (1968). Dragonflight. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

The act of creating speculative fiction, such as science fiction and fantasy, entails building worlds – an inherently geographic activity. The collaborative Critical Worldbuilding research project explores the progressive and obstructive politics and potentials of world building across speculative fiction media. Critical Worldbuilding applies critical, geographic theory to understand the politics and promises of crafting fantastical worlds through speculative fiction.

In addition to guest-editing a special section at the open-access journal Literary Geographies, I apply critical worldbuilding in the classroom as both a pedagogical technique and a topic of study. In the first case, I ask students to engage in and reflect on their own acts of worldbuilding using techniques such as role play and creative writing. In the second, I am designing two courses based on a critical worldbuilding premise: 1) “Science Communication Through Storytelling,” an advanced undergraduate seminar which helps students improve science communication skills through speculative storytelling techniques, and 2) “Cli-Fi: Climate Change and Dystopian Fiction,” an introductory course modeled on the University of Georgia First Year Odyssey program that introduces students to geographic concepts through speculative climate change-based fiction.


Martin, J.V. and Sneegas, G. 2020. “Critical worldbuilding: Toward a geographical engagement with imagined worlds.” Literary Geographies.

Martin, J.V. and Sneegas, G. 2020. (Guest Editors). “Special Section: Critical Worldbuilding.” Literary Geographies.

Selected Presentations:

Sneegas, G. 2017. Making a case for Critical Worldbuilding at the Nature/Society nexus. Nature/Society Workshop, Clark University, Worcester, MA, September 15-16.

Martin, J. and G. Sneegas. 2017. Critical Worldbuilding: Toward a Geographical Engagement with Speculative Fiction. Panel Organizers. Annual Meetings of the Association of American Geographers, Boston, MA, April 5-9.

Sneegas, G. 2016. The Maps & Geographies of Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction, and Fantasy Literature. Roundtable Discussion. Annual Meetings of the American Association of Geographers, San Francisco, CA, March 29-April 2, 2016.

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