Despina Kakoudaki

TALK: The End of a Difference: Robot Narratives for the 21st Century

How have robot narratives changed with the advent of real-life robotics in contemporary culture? Robots, cyborgs, automata, and other versions of the artificial person have had a long presence in human culture, and their stories emerged long before the development of the advanced technologies that may make them at all possible. We often wonder about how science fiction might inspire or inform actual science, but what is the impact of science on the patterns and longstanding tropes of science fiction? This paper will explore the ways in which our general technological familiarity with new robotic applications, with their practical uses, tendencies, limits, and requirements, changes the parameters of robot fictions, dissolving certain patterns of human-robot interaction, and revolutionizing others. Drawing from recent films and TV series, such as Battlestar Galactica, Wall-E, Real Steel, Robot and Frank, Her, and Ex Machina, this paper examines the complex evolution of the cinematic and literary fantasies associated with artificial people today.

DESPINA KAKOUDAKI is Director of the Humanities Lab at the American University, Washington, DC, which aims to support and showcase interdisciplinary research and support scholarly collaboration. She teaches interdisciplinary courses in literature and film, visual culture, and the history of technology and new media. Her interests include cultural studies, science fiction, apocalyptic narratives, and the representation of race and gender in literature and film. Her book Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema: the Cultural Work of Artificial People was published by Rutgers University Press in 2014. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for this project, which traces the history and cultural function of constructed people and animated objects in literature and film.

WEB (link)


“Artificial Intelligence.” Interview, Science for the People. Episode 348. 18 Dec 2015. (link)

“How Scientific Fact Informs Science Fiction.” Interview, The Kojo Nnamdi Show/ Tech Tuesday. WAMU 88.5. Hosted by Jennifer Golbeck. 17 Nov 2015. (link)

“How Real Is The Martian? Science Fiction, or Fictional Science?” Interviewed, Prod. Dave Taylor. 8 Oct 2015. (link)

“Sexy Robots.” Interview, Studio 360. PRI, Public Radio International. 16 Apr 2015. (link)

“A.I. XOXO.” Guest, Imaginary Worlds Podcast. Prod. Eric Molinsky. 28 Jan 2015. (link)

“Robots and Pop Culture.” Interview, The Kojo Nnamdi Show. WAMU 88.5. Interviewed by Todd Kliman. 31 Jul 2014. (link)

“Robots and Popular Culture.” Io9. Invited by Ed. Annalee Newitz. 15 Aug 2014. (link)


Kakoudaki, Despina. “Affect and Machines in the Media.” The Oxford Handbook of Affective Computing. Eds. Rafael Calvo, Sidney D’Mello, Johnathan Gratch and Arvid Kappas. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2014): Pages 110-128.

Kakoudaki, Despina. “Representing Politics in Disaster Films.” International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics. 7.3 (2011): 349-358.

Kakoudaki, Despina and Brad Epps. “Approaching Almodóvar: Thirty Years of Reinvention.” All About Almodóvar: A Passion for Cinema. Eds. Despina Kakoudaki and Brad Epps. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2009): Pages 1-36.

Kakoudaki, Despina. “8 Intimate Strangers Melodrama and Coincidence in TalktoHer.” All About Almodóvar: A Passion for Cinema. Eds. Despina Kakoudaki and Brad Epps. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2009): Pages 193-228.


Anatomy Of A Robot: Literature, Cinema And The Cultural Work Of Artificial People (link)

[From the cover] Why do we find artificial people fascinating? Drawing from a rich fictional and cinematic tradition, “Anatomy of a Robot “explores the political and textual implications of our perennial projections of humanity onto figures such as robots, androids, cyborgs, and automata. In an engaging, sophisticated, and accessible presentation, Despina Kakoudaki argues that, in their narrative and cultural deployment, artificial people demarcate what it means to be human. They perform this function by offering us a non-human version of ourselves as a site of investigation. Artificial people teach us that being human, being a person or a self, is a constant process and often a matter of legal, philosophical, and political struggle…