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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of English


A Social Disruption: The Decentering of the Individual in Contemporary Dystopian Fiction and its Challenges to Humanism, Posthumanism, and Neoliberal Individualism


This thesis carefully considers the presence of neoliberal individualism in contemporary dystopian fiction, paying particular attention to its influence over the characterizations of dystopian protagonists. Considering the emphasis on the individual’s perspective in both dystopian fiction’s formal legacy, as well as the prioritization of the individual above all else in neoliberal society, this thesis reads Dave Eggers’ The Circle (2013), Hiroko Oyamada’s The Factory (2013), Lin Ma’s Severance (2018), and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow (2013) as case studies the decentering of the individual’s position in dystopian narratives. This marked shift in focalization simultaneously disrupts the logic of neoliberal individualism, a form of individualism unique for its encouragement of society’s hyper-individualization, while taking cues from posthuman understandings of the human and nonhuman. Thus, the narrative space left by the decentering of dystopian protagonists is utilized by these four texts to imagine socially cohesive futures built around notions of interconnection and interdependence rather than isolation and separation. These novel forms of futurity do not conform to the isolating nature of the contemporary realities they are responding to. Instead, they present modes of existence that transcend both dystopian fiction’s as well as neoliberalism’s structures to present fluid understandings of humanity’s interrelationship with the human and the nonhuman alike.

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