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Imagining Adaptive Societies

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Courtesy of TEDxMarin

This project uses speculative fiction to help us imagine adaptable societies able to respond to the major challenges of our age.

How do we imagine novel social arrangements that allow us to thrive sustainably in an environment of greater equity? Speculative fiction provides a remarkable set of tools for exploring such complex systems. The world-building of a novel-length treatment of the implications of climate change, for example, provides the space to explore what these consequences might be for the Earth, for social, political, and economic structures, and for the lived experience of people. There have been efforts to treat speculative fiction from the perspective of literature or social activism. This project is unique in its effort to intentionally bring critical social-science expertise into dialogue with contemporary speculative fiction writers who specifically explore the social consequences of change. Of particular interest to our exploration of adaptations to social, economic, and environmental crises are the works by Black and Indigenous authors and the sub-genre of Climate Fiction (CliFi).

This program is led by James Jones, Margaret Levi, and with the assistance of CASBS Program Director Zachary Ugolnik.

Imagine Adaptive Societies is funded by a Cultivating Humanities and Social Sciences Grant at Stanford University.

This project is affiliated with the CASBS program Humans, Nature, and Machines.

For more information, please contact CASBS program director Zachary Ugolnik (


Facing the Speculative: ‘The Water Knife’ by Paolo Bacigalupi,” by Allison Casasola, November 30, 2021, The Stanford Daily.

Facing the Speculative: ‘Parable of the Sower’ as a parallel to our society,” by Allison Casasola, October 10, 2021, The Stanford Daily.

“Facing the Speculative” is a series in The Stanford Daily by Allison Casasola '24 informed by her work as a Research Assistant in the summer of 2021 for the Imagining Adaptive Societies project. In this column, Allison will be discussing crucial speculative fiction novels and their implications for modern society.