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Title:Utopian connectivity to paranoid collapse: complex networks and global social ecologies in 20th-century fiction
Author(s):Ballard, Shawn C
Director of Research:Mahaffey, Vicki
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mahaffey, Vicki; Underwood, Ted
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Courtemanche, Eleanor; Gaedtke, Andrew
Department / Program:English
Discipline:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):David Mitchell
James Joyce
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
complex networks
social networks
Abstract:This project treats complex systems, specifically global social and ecological networks, as central to understanding modern explorations and experiences of utopian connectivity and stability alongside dystopian paranoia and precarity. Through an examination of the fiction of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, James Joyce, and David Mitchell, I analyze strengths and vulnerabilities of such systems. Gilman’s perfectly controlled and aggressively managed ecosystems are undercut by potentially catastrophic losses in biodiversity. Joyce’s celebratory view of networks and links across cosmic scales requires an acknowledgement and acceptance of humanity’s relative powerlessness in the face of such universal connections, which dwarf global economic and social networks. Mitchell illustrates how subtle social linkings across time and space can add up to create powerful technological, ecological, and social effects. However, the power in Mitchell’s dense global network is also its weakness; in Ghostwritten, efficiency in information transfer can be used for positive outcomes as well as to effect total apocalypse. Alongside and enmeshed with my analysis of Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, I present a comparison of manual and automatic methods I created for extracting social networks from literary texts as a first step toward developing a broadly applicable network extraction method. My proof of concept indicates that, with further iterations and refinements, it should be possible to establish a practical, reliable, and effective method for extracting and understanding social networks in novels, with the aim of using these models to understand more deeply the texts themselves and what they suggest about human experience, policy, and futurity.
Issue Date:2017-04-20
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/97604
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Shawn Ballard
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05


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