Call For Papers: Utopia Now, a special issue of Cultural Politics
In order to be considered for inclusion in this special issue, please send abstracts of 250 words to the issue editors Dr Mark Featherstone (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Professor Malcolm Miles (M.F.Miles@plymouth.ac.uk) by 31 December, 2012.
About the special issue:
Our contemporary world is defined by an apocalyptic sense of endings. We are hyper-aware of the threat of environmental destruction, economic collapse, political immobility, and social decay. Even culture seems to be largely meaningless today, being absolutely dominated by the neoliberal bottom line which says that if it doesn’t sell, and appeal to the masses, it’s not worth anything. This cultural decay is particularly problematic because a lack of cultural energy means that there is very little sense about how we might start to approach the various global problems we face. For this reason the apocalyptic tone that characterises contemporary processes of neoliberal globalisation is characterised by negativity, and dystopic imagery, and does not offer much in the way of a utopian escape route from our global problematic.
Dystopias are everywhere today, but there are very few utopian imaginaries. The very idea of utopia seems ridiculous, while dystopia feels painfully realistic, leading to the conclusion that perhaps we live in a global age of dystopias. This is, of course, problematic because dystopias offer no positive solutions. How, then, can we begin to approach this lack of utopian imagination today, which in many ways may be a problem related to the exhaustion of modernity under conditions of globalisation? That is to say that if modernity, and the past four hundred years of western culture, had been concerned with solving problems by moving forward and forging ahead, then what happens when there is nowhere else to go? What happens when modernity seems burnt out? Does this mean that the very idea of utopia itself, which is very much concerned with problem solving, is completely exhausted and that all we have to imagine the future is dystopia and the dire imagination that characterises contemporary culture? It is on the basis of this possibility that we seek to think through the cultural politics of utopia and dystopia today.
The idea of utopia has enchanted the western imagination since Thomas More first coined the term in the early 16th century to describe his good place that was also no place. Since More wrote his famous work there have been numerous great utopian fictions, and Bellamy, Morris, and Wells spring to mind. However, the notion of utopia cannot easily be confined to literature. As the great thinker of utopia Ernst Bloch explained in his study The Principle of Hope, human culture is saturated with utopian imagery. As such, art, architecture, music, photography, film, and every other form of human cultural expression contain elements of the desire for some other, better, world. But simply because utopia originates in the human imagination should not lead us to think that it is somehow averse to practice. Although utopia began life as fiction, it has always transgressed this boundary and strayed into wider social and political discourse. Long before More wrote his Utopia, Plato set out what was, in the view of many, the first utopia. How far Plato’s Republic was a social and political manifesto concerned to bring about a real society remains a point of much contention. But regardless of Plato’s intention, it is clear that the idea of utopia as the animating force behind radical social and political ideological change has a long history. Consider the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions, the nightmarish Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, Sendero Luminoso in Peru, and the contemporary Taleban in Afghanistan. Each of these political movements was or is animated by an attempt to purify and radically reconstruct society along lines set out in the utopian thought of great thinkers, such as Plato, Rousseau, and Marx, who in many respects remain the champions of utopianism to this day.
Even today, in a world characterised by endings of all kinds and a deep cynicism about the prospect of social and political change, it may be that we can detect the trace of utopia everywhere, perhaps because people will never cease to desire an escape from misery, poverty, alienation, and general lack. Consider Islamic fundamentalism, the anti-capitalist movement, the ecological movement, the Latin American socialisms of Chavez and others, and even the Chicago School inspired free market capitalists. What are these if not contemporary examples of utopian desire in action? However, utopia is not as simple as imagining a good place, because the challenge to remake the world comes with great risks. What no one considering the above examples can fail to notice is that every utopia seems to produce an equal and opposite vision of society, a nightmarish dystopia which represents the mirror image of the good place, the terrible or worst possible place. In much same way that visions of utopia can be seen to saturate human culture, images of dystopia, the worst place, are everywhere in our history, and became particularly dominant over the course of the 20th century. Think Orwell, Huxley, Zamyatin, and even Marx, Heidegger, and Spengler who made use of nightmarish visions of society to animate their own utopian desire for a better place. Today, consider Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, P. D. James Children of Men, as well as other dystopias that purport to be telling us about our very real impending doom, such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. These examples, and there are many more, serve to illustrate that dystopia is very much with us today, and has perhaps come to dominate our future imaginings.
It is on the basis of this view that utopia and dystopia are very much with us today, and the long history of utopian and dystopian culture, theory, and practice, that Cultural Politics is concerned to publish original works influenced by a range of disciplines, including literature, sociology, politics, history, art, architecture, media, and film, that can shed light on the human desire to create better worlds and avoid the worst possible worlds that may result from our hubris. In searching for works on the desire and temptation of utopia and the risk and danger of dystopia under conditions of globalisation, we are concerned to publish articles and reviews not only influenced by an array of disciplines, but also a wide range of cultural settings. As such, we welcome works focused on contemporary utopia and dystopia in both western and eastern contexts, including China, India, and Japan.