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Greg Claeys: Utopia: A question of definition

Event date:1 March 2011 10.30 – 17.00
British Library
London Room MR4

 

 


The Humanities and Arts Research Centre (HARC) at
Royal Holloway University of London presents:

Civilizational Collapse: Dystopian Imaginings of the Past,
Present, and Future (1880 – Present)

 

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Greg Claeys: Utopia: A question of definition

There are considerable problems of definition around Utopia. A proper definition requires analytical purchase, and ‘utopian’ can become so broad a subject as to mean little more than thinking about a better world. Utopias operate in three fields: community, ideology and literature. In this context utopias have to be realisable, and thus the utopia must be socially realistic. This requires a vision of utopia which is not perfectionist: there must be room for change, development, disagreement. ‘Perfectabilist’ thinking is theological, and it is from perfectionist thinking that ‘anti-utopian’ literature tends to emerge. In the Babel of utopian thinking, one needs to recognise that utopia is not exclusively literary in that real utopianist communities have and are regularly developed. In Thomas More, a crucial question was that of scale, since scale brings a certain control, and that control allows one to reduce society to a human or natural scale. Dystopian systems tend to privilege the ‘totalising’ systems of the state and there emerges concentrations of power and scale: plutocracy especially is redolent of dystopia.

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