IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Christine CorneaIN THE SPOTLIGHT: Christine Cornea

Christine Cornea is an Associate Professor with the Department of Film, Television, Media (FTM) at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK). Current research interests are focused upon the uses of the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic narrative, environmental fiction and documentary in film and television and the development of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary methods.


What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship? 

A colleague originally alerted me to the existence of CAPAS and, after I read through the call for fellowship application, I thought, this is perfect, I have to apply! I’ve had an ongoing research interest in the uses of the post-apocalyptic on screen (in television and film) for a few years now and have also been involved in transdisciplinary projects, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. So, the CAPAS focus and general research approach ticked all the boxes for me and I was thrilled when I was offered the fellowship.

What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you? 

In religious eschatology, you could say that the apocalypse is the ultimate moment of divine retribution, bringing the end of a world to an individual, a group of people, or all people. Yet, even in theological apocalypticism (whether this is derived from Judaic, Christian, or Islamic traditions), as James Berger points out, “the end is never the end” (After the End, 1999, p. 5); the souls of believers are saved, evil is punished, and survivors continue to exist in a post-apocalyptic paradise or purgatory. This is a powerful and affecting narrative, capable of inducing both fear and hope, and, as such, has been avidly appropriated by secular media culture and used to various ends.

In secular media, fictional apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic narratives are most commonly regarded as falling under the rubric of the science fiction genre. The sf “apocalyptic” usually concerns itself with the lead up to a potentially catastrophic disaster, which is often averted (although not always – think of films like Melancholia or Don’t Look Up). However, it’s the “post-apocalyptic” that I’ve been most interested in, which is a narrative variant in science fiction that typically follows the struggles of a single protagonist or band of random characters as they attempt to adjust to an uncertain future in a world transformed by a catastrophic event.

What is your fellowship trying to achieve? 

My interest in the post-apocalyptic has been ongoing for the past few years. This fellowship offers me a sustained period of research/writing time to expand upon this work and to further develop my transdisciplinary approach.

This project is organised around several overarching questions:

  • Why is the post-apocalyptic so eagerly adopted in television in the 1970s and how has it developed up to the present?
  • How has the post-apocalyptic been represented in television in different national contexts (specifically in UK and US productions)?
  • How do these dramas and documentaries engage with and work through important socio-scientific issues?

In answering these questions my research crosses disciplinary boundaries, drawing upon political, economic, environmental, and social science studies in tracing the development and significance of this sub-genre in television. For example, my analysis considers the interplay between scientific and socio-scientific concepts and debates and the post-apocalyptic as a narrative within which to explore possible future scenarios beyond the boundaries prescribed by empirical investigation. My approach also enables a consideration of how ethical questions raised in post-apocalyptic television represent an intervention in contemporary socio-scientific debate and how the post-apocalyptic operates as a form of popular science communication.

What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results? 

Personally, I hope to have completed 2 or 3 single-authored journal articles during my time at CAPAS and to have attained a clearer sense of the development of the post-apocalyptic as a sub-genre in both UK and US television. Also, I hope this work will help to highlight and elevate the significance of analysis of television examples of this sub-genre. Having looked across work that focuses on the secular apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic narrative, I note that there is much more emphasis placed on film or literary examples - yes, a few high profile series or programmes have received a good deal of academic attention (Battlestar Galactica springs to mind), but these examples are often deemed ‘worthy’ due to their ‘cinematic’ qualities, because of their feature-length format or their relatively high production budgets, the quality of special effects and so forth. Consequently, there seems to be little interest in tracing or taking into account the history or the development of this sub-genre in television, which would probably necessitate the inclusion of less ‘well-respected’ examples. This is one of things that my ongoing project ultimately seeks to redress.

What are the aspects you are looking forward to at CAPAS? 

I have already benefitted from exchanges and discussion with other CAPAS fellows over the past few months. These exchanges have certainly given me a broader perspective and have fed into my own research. Over the next few months of my fellowship, I am especially looking forward to speaking with fellows from more scientific backgrounds, particularly from environmental studies.

To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?

I’m tempted to say, health, hope, and the motivation to adapt to changing circumstances. However, I think you probably have in mind more material things, to ensure survival. So, on a more practical level, I guess these three things would have to be clean water, shelter and food.

What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalype?

Gosh, there is so much I could mention. Off the top of my head, I guess I would include examples of post-apocalyptic narratives that impacted me as a child or young adult growing up in London, which would include the novel, The Chrysalids (John Wyndham, 1955), the drama-documentary, The War Game (Peter Watkins, 1966), the book, Watership Down (Richard Adams, 1972), the television series, Survivors (BBC, 1975-1977), and the graphic novel, When the Wind Blows (Raymond Briggs, 1982). In looking at more recent examples, I guess I would include the comic book series Y: The Last Man (Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra, 2002-2008), and the current television adaptation of The Last of Us (HBO, 2023 - ). However, I could so easily go onto list 20-30 more examples that I’ve found compelling.