In the 1940s, science fiction author Olaf Stapledon gave a talk to a school about the future. Addressing his audience as “you citizens of the future”, he proposed three visions for this future: the “destruction of the human race”, a “worldwide police state”, and “an entirely new kind of human world”.
Citizenship will not be such an important issue if Stapledon’s first vision comes to pass. But any future in which humans persevere or flourish will be accompanied by a repeated need to reassess what a citizen is. As we increasingly consider what and where we are citizens of in the face of recent political events in Britain and America, what “citizens of the future” might look like takes on new resonance. And it’s something that science fiction has long imagined.
Citizenship obviously has different meanings. Etymologically, it implies the inhabitant of a city, but its connotations cut across legal, geographical, cultural and racial senses. Nobody necessarily agrees on what citizenship is, let alone who should have it. This is further compounded when we consider who the citizens of the future might be, from the “next generations” of children and grandchildren, to questions around the political, economic and geographical landscapes that will redefine current debates about citizenship.
Who will inhabit our future cities? Shutterstock
The most common science fiction setting – space – is the site of one such redefinition, as humanity expands into the universe. This is something of a stalwart of science fiction from Star Wars (the Empire and the Galactic Senate) to Star Trek (the United Federation of Planets). In both cases, humans and aliens are part of the same political organisations. In Star Trek especially, the different series examine the various tensions surrounding Federation membership, from the inclusion of the Klingon Empire in The Next Generation to the founding of the Federation in Enterprise.
Even without aliens, science fiction has examined how humanity might be governed as it colonises space. One of the most explicitly political of such works is James SA Corey’s recently adapted Expanse series.
The Expanse sets the United Nations (as the governing body of Earth) against the Martian Congressional Republic and a “terrorist” Outer Planets Alliance. Here, a corollary between citizenship and colonialism comes to the fore. Citizens of the Belt imagine themselves to be citizens of one place (the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter) but are in fact governed by Earth, Mars and corporations based on those planets.