Lineages of Utopia


Utopias have existed for centuries in human history. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, they have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different sociospatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of sociospatial formations, both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at  different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias that, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs will get us to think about the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might individually and collectively work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices, be based on creative projects, and/or examine fictional utopias frequently encountered in science fiction novels and film. While the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopia and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for conference work.