International Conference of the Utopian Studies Society (Europe)

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12th International Conference of the Utopian Studies Society (Europe)

8-11 July 2011

University of Cyprus

Nicosia, Cyprus


Adiseshiah, Siân

University of Lincoln, UK

Session 36, Sun. 18.30-20.00 Rm A112 (Chair: Nicole Pohl)

Fings ain't wot they used t'be”: Utopia and the Backward Glance in the Postwar British Stage Musical

Utopia’s home in the arts is in prose fiction, where, starting with More’s Utopia (1516), and continuing in a tradition of classic utopian fiction, a visitor from a world similar to the reader’s own is guided around a perfect society by a utopian host. However, although the novel is the conventional form for outlining utopia’s political, social and economic structures and practices, this very process of describing utopia is simultaneously a weakness in the genre. Utopia is the ‘good place’ that is at once ‘no place’. It is beyond our descriptive capabilities because it depends upon an entirely new social formation and utterly transformed subjectivities. When utopia is depicted in narrative, the narrative often fails to capture utopia’s otherness, remaining caught within the ideological parameters of the descriptive narrative form.

Although often overlooked as utopian modes, drama, performance, music and song are forms that might be considered as circumventing the regulations of prose fiction. The abstract and non-representational nature of music, and of some aspects of performance, makes them effective modes for articulating utopian desire and expressing a utopian sensibility. Connections between theatre and utopia continue because theatre-going is a collective, ritualistic experience, where spectators are interpellated en masse and spectators’ identities are subject to transformation. The theatre also meets Foucault’s idea of heterotopia, a site located between utopian and real spaces, and which is reflective of a multiplicity of other spaces, acting as a counter-site, or inversion of ‘normal’ space.

In this paper, I consider musical theatre as a utopian mode, focusing particularly on the examples of Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade’s 1953 musical Salad Days and Lionel Bart’s 1960 show Oliver! Salad Days and Oliver! use both utopian and nostalgic modes and I examine the extent to which these modes challenge ideological boundaries or function as delimitations of utopian desire. I also consider the degree to which these musicals utilize nostalgia as yearning for a mythical past or as mourning for lost opportunities.

Achilleos, Stella

University of Cyprus, Cyprus

Session 37, Sun. 16.30-18.00, Rm A011 (Chair: Hans Ulrich Seeber)

From historical mythology to political philosophy”: Utopian Thought in Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers

The aim of this paper is to examine the intricate relationship between history and utopia in the social and political thought of Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers, concentrating in particular on Winstanley’s interpretation of the Norman Conquest and how that contributed to the radical social and political theories that gave rise to the Diggers’ attempts to reclaim the commons during the revolution in mid-seventeenth century England. As has long been argued, Winstanley provides a radical interpretation of the Norman Yoke theory by presenting the Norman Conquest as a violent break from the past, that imposed the yoke of “kingly power” and an intolerable set of social and economic conditions in the country. Indeed, Winstanley appears to provide a largely idealized construction of England’s pre-Conquest past that may be associated with his interpretation of the narrative of the creation and his belief in an ideal, prelapsarian state of humanity where the spirit of “universal love and righteousness” ruled and “the earth was a common treasury”. As will be pointed out in this paper, far from expressing a naive desire for the restoration of a long-lost paradise, Winstanley’s recasting of the past provides the basis for a challenging consideration of issues such as natural rights and the law, but also, quite importantly, a fascinating critique of violence that is intricately interconnected with the philosophy and praxis of the digging experiments launched in Surrey from 1649 to 1650. Turning attention to the development of Winstanley’s thought after the ultimate failure of these experiments and the Digger movement at large, this paper finally considers how these ideas contributed to the construction of Winstanley’s utopian vision for an ideal commonwealth in The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652) – a text that has been said to mark Winstanley’s transition from millenarian expectation to utopian thinking.

Alessio, Dominic

Richmond the American International University in London, UK
Session 3, Sat. 11.00-12.30, Rm A011 (Chair: Evi Haggipavlu)

Utopia, Empire and the End of the World: James Camerons Avatar (2009)

The aim of this paper is threefold. Firstly, Avatar will be examined in light of the social-political crisis in which it was written, namely the American-led invasion of Iraq at the start of the 21st century. The film subsequently comes across as a highly-charged response to US foreign policy and stands in good stead with a tradition of other anti-colonial SF/utopian critiques of empire. Secondly, this paper argues that while the film’s plot is an all-too-obvious metaphor for the history of European-indigenous colonial contact, the ‘utopian’ depiction of the Na’vi (Pandora’s native species), remains highly problematic from a postcolonial perspective. Instead, Avatar seems to re-imagine a ‘pigmentopia’, exposing the extent and depth of imperial cultural resonances to which even Cameron, the explicit anti-imperialist, falls victim. Last but not least, our Conclusion addresses the ways by which the film has been used for political ends by peoples throughout the world to gain international attention for their particular domestic plights. “Utopia, Empire and the End of the World” thus demonstrates how utopia can mobilize politics and popular culture. It also suggests the need to radically rethink traditional definitions and theories of empire. Indeed, Avatars focus on the relationship between empire and big business is a timely reminder of the need to start refocusing upon the phenomenon of empire, especially the fact that empires do not have to be always state led.

Allaste, Airi-Alina

Tallinn University, Estonia

Session 35, Sun. 16.30-18.00, Rm A107 (Chair: Timothy Miller)

The Ecovillage Movement in Estonia

Intentional communities have been founded in centuries in hope to realise better life - to realise utopia. Eco-villages can be interpreted as contemporary utopias that try to find solutions to the problems in the society – e.g. environmental risks, loneliness and technocracy. Even though the eco-villages are local, in contemporary globalised world they are organised and on the level of ideology have become translocal and intercultural. Recent decades have witnessed an increase in the number of global movements related to environmental issues. The eco-village movement is one with utopian and grand ideas; its ideology emphasizes communality, environmental awareness, and spirituality with belief that eco-village is the solution for saving the world.

This paper describes the diffusion of the world view and practices of Global Ecovillage Movement, focusing on the eco-village movement in Estonia. The aim of this paper is to explain how the global ideology is adopted in parallel to strengthening of the movement in Estonia. Global Eco-village Ideology, partly with utopian ideas, is a new “language” which was first adopted by the “cultural vanguard” and spread later on. Global ideology became meaningful for the local community with localised ideas together with everyday practice of specific lifestyles choices.

The empirical part of the paper is based on open-ended interviews and participant observation conducted in Estonia in 2008-2009.

Ashcroft, Bill

University of New South Wales, Australia

Session 20, Sat. 14.30-16.00, Rm A010 (Roundtable on Postcolonial Utopianism, Chair: Lyman Tower Sargent)

Session 26, Sun. 11.00-12.30, Rm A008 (Chair: Lyman Tower Sargent)

Utopianism in Post-Colonial Literatures: The Utility of Hope

This paper examines the proliferation of utopian discourse in post-colonial writing. Despite the nationalist utopias of pre-independence literature this hope now takes a form that ignores, or repudiates, the concept of nation inherited from the colonial state. The word ‘nation’ itself is absent as post-colonial writers conceive a hope that takes various shapes: geographical, historical, cultural, racial – shapes that may, I believe, constitute an emerging genre of post-colonial utopianism. The different manifestations of this genre are nearly always at least an implicit critique of state oppression of one kind or another and in this respect look for a vision of ‘home’ very different from the idea of the nation that once generated political hope. I will survey the forms of utopian writing that have emerged in Africa, the Caribbean, India, the borderlands of America, the Pacific and Indigenous peoples, to consider the cultural utility of hope, to ask what political purpose utopian thinking may serve.

Balasopoulos, Antonis

University of Cyprus, Cyprus


Session 19, Sat. 14.30-16.00, Rm A007 (Chair: Kalpana Seshadri)

Session 46, Mon. 11.30-13.00 Rm A107 (Roundtable on Dystopia, Chair: Tom Moylan)

Crisis, Justice, Messianism: On Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence”

This paper addresses one of Walter Benjamin’s most dense and important early essays, “Zur Kritik der Gewalt” (1921), in light of the notions of crisis, justice, and utopia. In my argument, “crisis” is a central hermeneutic category for Benjamin’s essay since it designates the political and economic turbulence of the first phase of the Weimar Republic, in which the text was born, and to which it clearly constitutes a response; secondly, “crisis” is vital to the thought of the essay’s two most important interlocutors, namely the anarcho-syndicalist Georges Sorel and the conservative and future National Socialist jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt; third, “crisis” seems to me to inform the very form of Benjamin’s query of conventional conceptions of legality and legitimacy, since this is an essay which proceeds by setting up a series of binary oppositions (means and ends, natural and positive law, sanctioned and unsanctioned force, natural and legal ends, active and passive conduct, law-making and law-preserving violence, pure and violent means, political strike and proletarian general strike, mythic and divine violence, retribution and expiation, power and justice), only to problematize and effectively superannuate each of them. In this respect, I argue, Benjamin’s method is neither properly dialectical nor quite deconstructive, for it neither involves the sublation of each opposition by its succeeding one, nor amounts simply to conceptual drift and aporia. It consists, rather, in a singular attempt to do justice to justice, itself conceived as singular, incalculable and impossible to codify in terms of generalizable or standardizable notions. The fundamental thrust of the “Critique” is thus its refusal to substantialize the “pure means” of proletarian violence, to treat it as yet another incarnation of a “law.”

As for utopia, while Benjamin certainly seems to follow in the path of Sorel’s own pronounced anti-utopianism—and hence to identify “utopia” with “program” and with “law-making violence”—this does not prevent him from a messianic orientation to “the world to come”, nor from envisioning “a new historical epoch” in which the cycle of lawmaking and law-preserving violence will have been broken. Such an insight, I conclude, is akin less to either Sorel or Schmitt and more, however surprisingly, to Lenin’s own speculations on the “withering away” of the state and the end of violence in his own almost contemporary The State and Revolution (1917).

Bell, David

University of Nottingham, UK

Session 32, Sun. 14.30-16.00, Rm A007 (Chair: Marios Vasileiou)

The Eastside Island Utopia Project: Fictionalising Nomadic Utopia

In late 2010 I began to write a work of fiction describing the emergence of a utopian community on the ‘Eastside Island’: a large tract of derelict land in my home city of Nottingham. Inspired by anarchist, Open Marxist and poststructuralist political thought and Luca Frei’s novel the so-called utopia of the centre beaubourg, I sought to describe a nonhierarchical community which would offer a fictive representation of the concept of ‘nomadic utopianism’ that I am developing in my PhD thesis, as well as offering a ‘utopian’ vision in response to the crises perpetuated by public spending cuts in Nottingham.

I soon became concerned by the power I had as an author, however. How could I accurately represent the desires of the people I imagined living in the community when the experiences of these fictive characters would be well beyond my own? What other ideas was I missing out on by being the sole creative force behind this utopia? For these reasons, I decided to make the utopia a collaborative project. I opened up the text for modification by anyone and am preparing a series of events for different spaces throughout Nottingham (schools, galleries, universities, the Eastside Island site itself) where I will encourage the audience to collectively contribute to the utopia. I am also hoping the project will generate ‘cultural artefacts’ from the imagined community: works of music, recipes, jewellery and so forth.

This paper will offer a reflection on the process, touching on its theoretical, literary and practical inspirations as well as detailing successes and failures and tracing links to issues central to contemporary utopian studies. It will also form a part of the process itself, with those in attendance encouraged to help the utopia develop.

For more information on the project, please see:

Belli, Jill

City University of New York, USA

Session 8, Sat. 14.30-16.00, Rm A008 (Chair: Gregory Claeys)
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