Dr Vivek Santayana

Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Vivek Santayana

Dr Vivek Santayana - orcid.org/0000-0002-2898-8087

Postdoctoral Fellow, August 2021 - May 2022

University of Edinburgh

Vivek Santayana completed his PhD in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh in 2021. His research interests include postcolonial writing, epistemic justice, late style, and the environmental humanities. His doctoral thesis was on the late works of Nadine Gordimer. He has had articles published in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature and Commonwealth Essays and Studies, and he is currently working on a monograph that is under consideration by Palgrave. Vivek has also taught at the Department of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh as well as on the Mad People’s History and Identity course organised jointly by CAPS Advocacy and Queen Margaret University. He is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and has been elected Vice President of the Edinburgh Branch of the University and College Union. In addition, he has organised public engagement events exploring the use of collaborative co-creation through table-top role-playing as a tool for disseminating themes and findings from his doctoral research.

Project Title: Dissident Imaginaries: Speculative Fiction and Epistemic Resistance in the Works of Nnedi Okorafor and Mimi Mondal

Speculative fiction (SF) envisions alternative realities as a way of addressing political and ethical questions of our world, encompassing subgenres like science fiction, fantasy, supernatural fiction, etc. Critics like André Carrington and China Miéville note that ideologies of whiteness and capitalist modernity are over-represented in SF, evident in the canonising of writers like H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Heinlein. My project explores how SF written by two women writers from marginalised positions, Nnedi Okorafor and Mimi Mondal, challenge these ideologies in whiteness and resist gender, racial, caste and colonial hierarchies within structures of knowledge. I begin with a critical appraisal of what Carrington terms ‘speculative Blackness’, which for him is an idiom that challenges the aforementioned ideologies of whiteness in SF to transformative ends, as well as the works of Octavia Butler, whose innovations with Afrofuturism was at the root of these developments. Both Okorafor and Mondal are a later generation of writers who draw from Butler’s Afrofuturism and transform the idiom in different social and political contexts. Okorafor, a Naijamerican writer, is critical of Afrofuturism’s privileging of the Global North, and develops the genre of Africanfuturism to re-orient speculative Blackness along an Africa-centred geopolitics. Mondal adapts Butler’s style and idiom in a new context as a Dalit writer in India, demonstrating how the radical imaginaries advanced by speculative Blackness can create a productive terrain on which to critique structures of marginalisation across different ethnicities and contexts, engaging with not just race and gender, but also caste. I will examine speculative Blackness using the framework of epistemic justice to evaluate how this critical idiom contests colonial inequalities within structures of knowledge. Putting these writers in dialogue will frame the critique of whiteness and capitalism in ways that are attentive to the specificities of and commonalities between different structures of oppression and articulate shared forms of resistance at their intersections. I argue that SF written by Mondal and Okorafor present a radical imaginary that challenges colonial hierarchies within knowledge production that are embedded within the genre.