Towards a political theory of Star Trek

Simon Irvine (2001). Towards a political theory of Star Trek PhD Thesis, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Simon Irvine
Thesis Title Towards a political theory of Star Trek
School, Centre or Institute School of Political Science and International Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2001
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor A.Prof Don Fletcher
Total pages 235
Language eng
Subjects L
360104 Political Theory and Political Philosophy
750601 Understanding political systems
Formatted abstract

Star Trek (The Original Series) has been the focus of scholarly attention since it first aired in the mid-1960s. An assumption common to the literature is that Trek is a liberal-humanist project. However, no serious attempt has ever been made to justify this assumption. This dissertation seeks to address this fundamental gap in the literature. 

In order to fully extrapolate the values that comprise the series' political position I utilize a four-level textual analysis. Firstly, I examine the value positions of the three central protagonists - James T. Kirk, Mr Spock, and Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Through an examination of key discussions (usually in relation to political systems encountered), I demonstrate the value position each character holds and the relative weight placed on the different positions. Secondly, I examine the kinds of political systems encountered in Star Trek and responses of the crew of the Enterprise (with particular emphasis on the central protagonists) to these systems. This serves to further delineate the values expounded in the series as a whole. Thirdly, I explore how understandings of hierarchy and treatments of technology, gender, and race serve to reinforce and transfigure the value positions uncovered in the first two levels of analysis. This third level demonstrates the complexity of value formation in the series. Finally, I examine how the values previously revealed intersect and combine to form a "political theory".

I find that Star Trek upholds a social and cooperative understanding of individualism. Along with a belief in specialization and elitism, this belief in "social individualism" demonstrates the series' commitment to a form of social organization roughly equating to the organic/functionalist form(s) advanced by Emile Durkheim. I conclude that whilst previous scholarship is correct in assuming the series is a liberal-humanist project, it is nevertheless important to qualify what brand of liberalism is being advanced. In the world of Star Trek, liberalism is imagined as social, elitist and consequently, anti-democratic. 

Keyword Star trek (Television program)

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
Citation counts: Google Scholar Search Google Scholar
Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 17:44:10 EST