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North American Studies - Prof. Dr. Jeanne Cortiel

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Risk Fiction

Wortwolke Risk-Forschung

Brief Description

Contemporary American culture is to a large extent shaped by a sense of shared risk, and fictional narratives across media have contributed significantly to this shaping power of risk, pushing the boundaries of what is imaginable about the future at any given moment. The project investigates the contribution of North American fictional texts to the converging discourses of global technological and environmental risks since the 1980s. Drawing on insights of risk theory and risk research in the social sciences and using the premises and methods of cultural and transmedial narratology, it analyzes and defines what we call "risk fiction" -- a corpus of novels, films, and graphic narratives that explore how technological and environmental global risks have affected individual and collective experiences in the contemporary world risk society. One of the key aims of the project is to establish the concept of risk as analytical category in the disciplines of literary and cultural studies, linking ecocriticism and science fiction studies to define and analyze risk fiction as emerging transmedial genre. Four subprojects focus on specific narrative articulations of the risks addressed, and together develop a conceptual framework for understanding the aesthetics, poetics, and ethics of risk fiction as a genre. In doing so, they break new theoretical and methodological ground within literary and cultural studies, contribute to interdisciplinary risk research in the humanities, and make a new corpus of texts available for further research.


Subproject 1: "The Aesthetics and Ethics of the North American Climate Change Novel – Towards a Definition of the Environmental Risk Narrative" (Sylvia Mayer)

Subproject 2: "Narrating the Anthropocene: Globalization and Environmental Risk in U.S. American Climate Change Narratives" (Lukas Büttcher)

Subproject 3: "Risk Technologies and Global Catastrophe in Contemporary American Graphic Narrative" (Laura Oehme)

Subproject 4: "Risk and the Dystopian Body: Future Technologies and Contemporary American Popular Film" (Jeanne Cortiel)

Basic Information

Time Frame: 2015 – 2018

Applicants: Prof. Dr. Jeanne Cortiel, Prof. Dr. Sylvia Mayer

Research Assistants: Lukas Büttcher, Laura Oehme

DFG Website

Project-Related Conferences and Workshops

December 9, 2016: "Risk and Fiction: Uncertainty and Speculation across Media"Hide
July 15, 2016: "Blood in the Gutter: Uncertainty and Speculation in Contemporary American Comics"Hide

Workshop with Poster Session

Poster as PDF

Friday, July 15, 2016, Room: S 120, GWI

Organizers: Laura Oehme, Jeanne Cortiel (Bayreuth)

BA/MA Research Seminar "Blood in the Gutter: Uncertainty and Speculation in Contemporary American Comics"

Comics as a medium requires specific imaginative work to piece together its narratives, making it particularly adapted to speculation. This has to do with the ways in which comics combine the visual and the verbal, but also with the history and development of comics as a medium in the United States: Since the late 1980s, dystopian and post-apocalyptic science fiction has been among the dominant genres in American Comics. Even the superhero has turned into a figure of anticipation, with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series (1986, 1987, 2001-02) being one the most prominent early examples. Focusing on comics as medium of speculation, this workshop brings together BA/MA students, doctoral students, and established scholars in the field of comics studies to explore how comics enable a particular type of speculation that combines the verbal and the visual, time and space in unique ways.

The workshop connects with a series of symposia, workshops, and conferences in Bayreuth around the question of global catastrophic risk in literature, popular culture, and society. It is part of a collaborative research project on “Contemporary American Risk Fiction."
Scheduled at the end of the summer semester, the workshop was the climax of a research seminar that focused on contemporary American science fiction comics. The students developed their own research projects during the semester and presented them in a poster session as part of the workshop. Accompanied by some food and drinks, guests and speakers had the opportunity to discuss the posters with the students in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. Subsequently, three talks by renowned comics scholars inspired plenary discussions that top off the event.



14:00   Opening and Poster Session

Karin Kukkonen (Oslo), "Fictions of the Future"

Introduction by Laura Oehme (Bayreuth)


Jeanne Cortiel and Christine Hanke (Bayreuth), "Singularity 7: Uncertainty between Image, Text, and Narrative"

Introduction by Lu Gan (Bayreuth)


Johannes Fehrle (Mannheim), "Satirizing the Neo-Liberal Individualization of Uncertainty in The Adventures of Unemployed Man"

Introduction by Lukas Büttcher (Bayreuth)

October 23–24, 2015: "Perilous Passages – The Birth of Risk in 19th-Century American Culture"Hide

International Conference

23rd–24th October 2015, Schloss Thurnau

University of Bayreuth / University of Erlangen-Nuremberg

This conference draws attention to the crucial role the nineteenth century played—particularly in the transatlantic North American context—in transforming the meaning of risk and moving it from the margins of particular trade enterprises to the center of social cohesion and individual identity. 

For more information see the conference abstract and the program.


Prof. Dr. Jeanne Cortiel (University of Bayreuth)
Dr. Karin Hoepker (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)

Sponsors & Partners:

July 11, 2014: "Future Visions: Speculation and Anticipation in Graphic Narratives"Hide

Workshop with Poster Session

Poster as PDF

Friday, July 11th, 2014 (2:00 p.m.), Room: S 122, GWI

BA Research Seminar "Future Visions: Speculation and Anticipation in Graphic Narratives"

Since the end of the cold war in the late 1980s, the sense of crisis has become ubiquitous. Media discourse around terrorism, climate change disasters, global financial collapse, and impending pandemics inspire apocalyptic fiction and fictional narratives of disaster feed into risk reporting. At the same historical moment, comics as a medium, particularly in the English-speaking world, turned towards bleaker, more dystopian and complex narrative worlds, Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986-87) and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series (1986, 1987, 2001-02) being the most prominent early examples. It is not surprising, then, that dystopia has become one of the dominant genres (next to autobiography) in comics/graphic narratives, while utopian visions have virtually disappeared. Even the superhero has turned into a figure of doom rather than resurrection. Focusing on this shift, this workshop brings together BA/MA students, doctoral students, and established scholars in the field of Comics Studies to explore ways in which comics have envisioned the future and yet unrealized potentialities from the 1980s to the present. How have comics tapped speculative genres such as science fiction, utopia/dystopia, (post)apocalypse, alternate history, superhero fiction, and horror to engage with the contemporary sense of risk and apprehension? How has this engagement changed since the 1980s? Has the comics medium developed unique ways of visualizing possible (or impossible) futures in response to present technological, social, and political challenges? What technological developments (nuclear technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, AI/robotics) have been particularly productive in envisioning these futures? How is the posthuman conceptualized in comics? What role does the superhero, quintessential product of American comics culture, play in these visions? How do these speculative graphic narratives conceptualize gender and race in terms of the future? How are future military conflicts envisioned in comics?

The workshop continues a series of symposia, workshops and conferences in Bayreuth around the question of global catastrophic risk in literature, popular culture and society. It is part of a research project at the University of Bayreuth on risk fiction and cultures of speculation.


14:00     Opening and Poster Session

16:00     "'Destiny's Temporal Anomaly' in X-Men: Days of Future Past"

               (Astrid Böger, Hamburg)

16:45     "Dystopian Visions of Technology: Graphic Literature and Genetics"

               (Jennifer Henke, Bremen)

17:30     "Dirges in the Dark: Dystopian Desires in Graphic Novels"

               (Dirk Vanderbeke, Jena)

July 12, 2013: "Risk Technologies and the Gendered Body"Hide

Workshop with Poster Session

Poster as PDF

July 12th 2013, 14:30, Room S 121 (GW I)

BA Research Seminar “Risk Technologies and the Gendered Body”

Since the late 1980s, discussions about nanotechnology, biotechnology, and robotics/artificial intelligence have had a tangible impact on how future visions shape decisions in the present moment, both on a global scale and in the everyday lives of individuals. These technologies are constituted as risk technologies in the tension between a coming golden age of universal wealth and health and the threat of impending techno-apocalypse. Science fictional narratives in popular culture (literature, film, computer games, and comics) have had a defining role in developing these visions. This workshop examines what happens to the human body in a narrative world that is characterized by uncertainty, uncontrollable technologies, and the anticipation of global catastrophe.

The workshop is connected to a BA research seminar that focuses on contemporary science fiction film. The students will present their research projects in a poster session as part of the workshop.


14:30     Opening and Poster Session

16:00     "'Brilliantly paranoid?' Trust as Risk in Homeland and Hatufim"

               (Randi Gunzenhäuser, TU Dortmund)

16:45     "Molecular Crisis: Video Games and the Gendered Battlefield"

               (Colin Milburn, UC Davis)

Winter Semester 2012/2013: "World at Risk: Risk Scenarios and/in Cultural Studies"Hide
November 23–25, 2012: "Risk - Effects and Affect: Technology and Narrative in the 21st Century"Hide
July 20, 2012: "Life - Science and Narrative"Hide
February 24–26, 2012: "The Shaping Power of Risk: Literature, Culture, Environment"Hide
July 15-16, 2011: "Converging Technologies and Risk Assessment: Literature, Science, Culture"Hide

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