Table Of Contents
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Introduction Utopian Encounters: Anthropologies of Empirical Utopias (Maïté Maskens / Ruy Llera Blanes)
- An Anthropological Theory of Utopia
- The Temporalities of Utopia
- The Territorialities of Utopia
- The Relationalities of Utopia
- Ethnographies of Utopian Encounters
- 1 Valuing an Old-Age Trope for an Old-Age Home: Ethnographic Encounters with Utopian Configurations (Alicia Sliwinski)
- Fieldwork Vignettes: The Making of an Old-Age Home
- The Value of Everyday Utopias
- The Meaningful Difference of an Old-Age Home
- For a Moral Economy of Utopian Configurations
- Conclusion: The Risky Business of Utopianism
- 2 Past Utopias: Religious and Political Temporalities in Contemporary Angola (Ruy Llera Blanes)
- Introduction: Arriving in Ntaya
- Utopia through Time and Space
- A Genealogy of Temporalizing Processes
- On the Foundation of a Spiritual Utopia
- Daily Life in Ntaya
- The Ruination of Utopia
- Conclusion: Utopias and New Old Futures
- 3 ‘Imagine a World Without Tobacco’: Utopian Visions and Collaborative Research in Public Health (Andrew Russell)
- Methodological Approach
- Aotearoa/New Zealand: Concerning Utopia
- 11 February 2014
- 17 February 2014
- 18 February 2014
- 19 February 2014
- 26 February 2014 and beyond
- Wider Perspectives: Incorporating Dystopia
- 4 Neo-Rural Communities as Heterotopias (Madeleine Sallustio)
- Temporality as a Key to Conceptualize Social Worlds
- Neo-Rural Communities as Heterotopias?
- Diverse forms across time and social contexts
- A place of deviation from the norm: the relationship with work
- Systems of opening and closing and the principle of compensation
- The juxtaposition of incompatible spaces
- Heterotopias and Heterochrony
- Living in the present
- Considering the future
- Nostalgia and the mobilization of history
- Cyclical and linear time
- 5 “Could This Be the End of the World as We Know It?” Community-Supported Agriculture in Croatia and the Building of Ecotopia (Olga Orlić)
- The Development of CSA around the World
- Striving to make the CSA Movement a Reality
- Utopian Vicissitudes
- Ecotopias under Siege
- 6 The Dominance of One and Its Perils: Charismatic Leadership and Branch Structures in Utopian Communes (Christoph Brumann)
- Charismatic Leadership
- John Humphrey Noyes of Oneida
- Christian Metz of Amana
- Types of charismatic leadership
- Highly dominant leaders
- Moderately dominant leaders
- Branch Structures
- Branches and size
- Cooperation and control among branches
- Dominance among branches
- Afterword (Tobias Kelly)
- Notes on Contributors
- Series index
In a recent article, Stevphen Shukaitis problematized the study of utopia as an “ethnography of nowhere” (2010), referring to the fact that in most analyses the concept of utopia seldom appears as ready-made but expresses an ‘ideal state’, possibly placed in the future or in the past, contrasting to a present ‘real state’.1 From this particular perspective, utopian configurations may be composed of political, moral or ethical arguments, but are in any case ethereal, usually encapsulated within the abstract dimensions of ‘values’, ‘visions’, ‘worldviews’ or ‘beliefs’. Hence, the somewhat negative connotation with which it appears in our quotidian conversations: when we deem something as a ‘utopia’, we are probably thinking of it as something impractical, unrealistic and unattainable; the dream of longhaired or barefoot individuals. Despite the multiplicity of meanings historically associated with the concept of utopia, the accusation of ‘unrealism’ may be the one common denominator.
This, as we know, was informed by a longue durée process, initiated in the very coinage of the term ‘utopia’ by Thomas More in his seminal ← ix | x → homonymous 1516 book.2 Playing with Greek etymology, More devised the island of Utopia, the “perfect society”, as both a ‘ideal’ (eu-) and ‘non-existing’ (ou-) place (-topos). Subsequently, we can also find it in the subgenre of ‘utopian literature’, which has fed into the sci-fi and fantastic literary genres with ideas of future, past, alternative or remote worlds. From such processes, we can observe a duality between configurations that see utopia as radically exterior, in time and/or space, to us; and those that see it as a driving mechanism to transform ideals into the realm of reality. Jean Baudrillard expressed this duality in terms of a ‘dialectical utopia’, in which the existing order (topos) is confronted with processes of criticism and analysis that allow for the emergence of utopia (2006: 31).
Following such a lead, we argue that this exercise in critical imagination and anticipation often becomes the agent of materialization itself, in a process whereby political imagination becomes political praxis. In this vein, in the arts and literature for instance, we often detect utopian qualities within processes of imagination and inspiration that have informed specific ways of concretizing the future into specific worldviews, either as a reaction to or reflection of the ‘current situation’, whatever that may be (see Jameson 1979, 2005; Bloch 1989; Bishop 2004). A similar argument could be made concerning the history of architecture as a discipline that imagines and projects urban and landscape utopias (e.g. Fishman 1982 ; Kirk 2005; Baudrillard 2006; Jameson 2012; Levitas 2013). This projection has produced a history of architectural and urban planning successes and failures, revealing both the intellectual ambition towards the possibility of wellbeing or living well, and the inscription, the physical work oriented towards that same ambition.
But Shukaitis also notes in his article that it is in fact possible to identify (and therefore study) examples of what he calls “little slices of liberation and non-alienated experience” (2010: 305): structures, practices and organizations that reveal actually existing elements of utopian visions − although also recalling that such visions can be both libertarian and totalitarian. ← x | xi → Our first contention in this volume thus responds to Shukaitis’ challenge, arguing that in fact it is possible (and necessary) to engage in an empirical study of utopian configurations, beyond their commonsense understanding as values, theories and world visions, and within the sphere of the everyday (Cooper 2014): as ‘real utopias’, as has been recently suggested by Erik Olin Wright (2009). In fact, considering utopia as a social movement, we allow for an investigation of what we can provisionally call ‘utopian encounters’, the tangible place of friction between ideals and material worlds. In a recent volume, Shukaitis, Graeber and Briddle (2007) rightly referred to such processes as ‘constituent imaginations’, the provocations that transform comment into militancy, ideas and theories into concrete actions and practices.
There are, from this perspective, historical and current examples that make this argument possible. Namely, specific territorializations that emerge from the will and practice of intentional communities – from the nineteenth-century North American Phalanx communities inspired by Charles Fourier’s phalanstère architectures, to the replications of B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two utopian fiction (Kuhlmann 2005), 1960s and 1970s hippy communes and contemporary ecotopian ventures (see e.g. Alimonda 2002). Such examples, as well as other political experiments such as Colónia Santa Cecilia, the Paris Commune or more recently Marinaleda, for instance, can be seen as constitutive of what Davina Cooper has recently called ‘everyday utopias’ (2014), in her study of attempts to make utopia ‘real’ on behalf of ‘common people’ – nudists, local traders, school teachers and students, etc. For them, utopia responds to concrete, immediate necessities instead of to wider imagined, abstract worlds. Their efforts, no matter how localized and short-ranged, are in any case revelatory of a progressive politics, a rejection of conformism in people who react to what surrounds them. In sum, it is a deconstruction of deterministic prefigurations of human nature – what the art critic Nicolas Bourriaud recently defined, inspired by the Deleuze/Guattari micropolitical approach, as ‘micro-utopias’ (1998; see also Blanes, Flynn, Maskens and Tinius 2016).
However, the advocacy for an empirical study of utopia cannot exclude the exploration of ideology and political values in the formation of utopia (Manheim 1954), which reveals the variability of content of what is utopia ← xi | xii → (see e.g. Russell, this volume). In this project, we defend quite the opposite. In fact, in such cases one cannot perform a disconnection between the theoretical and practical dimensions, as the materialized dimensions identified above are in fact invested by political and moral ‘desires’ (Levitas 1990). And the philosopher Miguel Abensour, for instance, rightly noted how throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the political processes of transforming the will of emancipation into political organization produced specific programmatic utopias – anarchist, socialist, Leninist, scientific, Nazi, fascist, etc. (2000: 8–9). We agree that the two dimensions are inseparable and correspond to different temporalizing configurations: the theoretical/creative/imaginative dimension, which is about idealization and conceptualization; and the practical dimension that reflects the stage of materialization and concretization. The debates that have developed thus far in political philosophy, confining utopia to its effective possibility or impossibility, have prevented us from thinking of both dimensions as mutually constitutive.
This pushes us into the question that was already behind Karl Manheim’s distinction between utopia and ideology (1954): what kinds of ideals and political conceptions are, in fact, ‘utopian’? It is quite commonplace to associate a specific set of political ideologies: libertarianism, mutualism, egalitarianism, revolution, etc. – a set that refers, though not exclusively,3 to anarchist political thought and practice. But, as Michael Löwy (2009) and others show us, other configurations may be at stake when we consider, for instance, religious imagination and practice. The same could be said concerning conservative political thinking (Levitas 1990), which performs what could be called a ‘nostalgic utopia’ (Berliner 2014), placing the ‘perfect society’ not necessarily in a future potential, but instead in an idealized past. This articulation is thus revelatory of how utopia performs a temporalizing argument through acts of imagination and expectation – as, for instance, in millennial and messianic religious movements (Cohn 1957; Desroches 1957, 1959). ← xii | xiii →
In any case, we are obliged to understand and critically address the correlations between such political and ideological configurations, and their materialization into practical, empirical expressions and manifestations. This is where we believe social and cultural anthropology can play an interesting role. In what follows, we will weave approaches, concepts and debates that stem from both anthropology and utopian theory, detecting their confluences and epistemological potentials.
An Anthropological Theory of Utopia
What is specific of an anthropological approach to utopia that can add to the prolific literature in political philosophy, literary studies and other disciplines? As we argue elsewhere (Maskens and Blanes 2013, 2016), anthropology in itself has an inherently utopian quality embedded into its ethical and political configurations, in particular if we think of the discipline’s traditional moral commitment to register the ‘disappearing’ worlds, of primitivist ideologies or anthropologists’ militancy or public advocacies of our objects of study. But it also has a methodological point through which we can argue for the relevance of an anthropology of utopia: the particularities of anthropological fieldwork, marked by a kind of mutuality that allows for an empirically grounded theory (ibid.). However, our main contention here is that an anthropology of utopia can effectively produce an ‘ethnography of somewhere’, uncover and map social processes, movements, politics.
This proposal, however, requires an attempt to streamline a working definition that counteracts the more ethereal configurations we have challenged above. Although we are more interested in unpacking the concept than in restricting it to a particular conceptual framework, in our movement towards an ‘empirical utopia’ we acknowledge that a practical heuristics is required in order to help us achieve some degree of common intelligibility. This introduction and the chapters that follow explore the following configurations of utopia: (1) as a political philosophy, a statement ← xiii | xiv → or set of statements that compose a worldview; (2) as an anthropology (sensu lato), a theory of humanity; (3) as a creativity, an act of imagination and generation; (4) as a relationality, form of association, collective interaction; (5) as a praxis, as practical knowledge; and finally (6) as a ‘site’, a material manifestation.
Our primary goal here is thus to remove utopian talk from the exclusive realm of value theory and into the empirical, looking at how utopia operates and emerges as a significant trope across different contexts, groups and movements. In this volume, for instance, we ‘recognize’ utopia in concrete places such as monuments, villages, landscapes, the body or the city. We begin by following Marie-Ange Cosette-Trudel (2010) in her distinction between a ‘reactive’ and a ‘creative’ utopia, which emerges in the conjunction of temporality and historicity – that is, in the conjunction of contingent and non-contingent dimensions of social life. In other words, utopia is inscribed in history and therefore is reactive, contingent; but it is also ontological, creative, non-contingent. Her framing emerges in reaction to Deleuze and Guattari’s (2001: 110) subsuming of utopia within a more encompassing idea of ‘becoming’ that focuses more on the potentiality and less on the actuality of utopia in our sociality, but does not seem to pay enough attention to its inscriptive capacities. We therefore argue that there is a thin line between utopia as an act of imagination and its actual concretization: ‘possible’ and ‘real’ utopias (Trudel 2010). This in turn invokes a sense of effervescence and transformation, not only in the temporal sense attributed by Walter Benjamin (1968 ), but also in the concrete consequences it provokes. Subsequently, we invited the contributors of this volume to explore/examine both dimensions of utopia: the reactive (subversive, critical), in which More’s Utopia becomes the prime example; and the creative dimension, in which diverse élans vitaux, perennial philosophies and other world visions emerge.
One possible advantage of this angle is that it allows us to detect the plurality of utopian configurations, which may not necessarily respond to the political and philosophical conceptual itinerary that we are familiar with – that which stemmed from More’s book and found its way through Western thought and literature – but may have incorporated other social and political histories, other élans vitaux (Bergson 1907) and joies de vivre. ← xiv | xv → This is not to deny the connection between both dimensions, but rather to allow for the possibility of a two-fold directionality in that connection. In other words, we accept both contextual contingency and conceptual abstraction in the constitution of plural utopias, and explore their mutual configurations. To exemplify, we could refer for instance to the emergence of tropes such as ‘ecotopias’, ‘microtopias’ or ‘nowtopias’, which seem to encapsulate both a contingent and a theoretical element in their current usages. These tropes will be discussed elsewhere in this volume. Similarly, we can also observe how in many instances utopia appears framed within a theory of economic behaviour, a theory of temporality or a theory of aesthetics. It is in this sense that utopia becomes a constituent imagination, as it were.
To accept the above statement of a utopian ‘double binding’ pushes us into the following problem: as a constituent imagination, utopia becomes a value, a concept for ordering and structuring meaning in the world. And this is, as recent literature has shown us (Dumont 1980, 1992; Robbins 1994, 2007, 2013; Graeber 2001), an inherently anthropological problem, tackled from within the recognition of ethnographically based theory. From the re-evaluations of human economy (Godelier 1972; Sahlins 1972, 1976; Carrier 1995; Graeber 2001; Hart, Laville and Cattani 2010; da Col 2012) and exchange to the more recent debates towards an anthropology of morality (Zigon 2008; Overing 2013) and questions on desire (Yuran 2014), the good (Robbins 2013), happiness and well-being (Corsín-Jiménez 2007; Jackson 2011), anthropology has shown concern for how values circulate from conceptual theory to empirical practice, affecting relationalities and social engagement.
Such debates were fundamental in at least one particular aspect: dismantling the exclusively economistic and rationalizing understanding of ‘value’, in which a functionalist and rationalizing theory of human agency was presumed. David Graeber, for instance, has suggested that, more than a mechanism of hierarchization, value can be thought as a form of action that becomes significant within a wider sense of social totality (2001). From this perspective, we could also include utopia as a value that participates in such a process, inasmuch as many utopian configurations were also based on similar reframing of economic activity and human exchange. Think, ← xv | xvi → as an obvious example, of the Marxian critique of the bourgeois “Vulgar Economy”, self-presented as ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’ (Marx 1904 ; see also Sciabarra 1995: 55). This critique was a preamble of sorts to Karl Marx’s own ‘scientific socialism’, based on an understanding of historical mechanics and social ontologies. As we know, Marx was critical of contemporary ‘moral utopians’ such as Fourier, Saint-Simon and others, due to their alleged abstract apriorism, as well as of Bakunin, Proudhon, Stirner and other anarchists due to their fracturing dualism (state versus society) and constructivist arguments. However, his own projection of a future socialist revolution and the possible society emerging for it, gave way to a temporalizing narrative that has found expression in many twentieth-century political systems (Geoghegan 2008). And in any case, were he alive today, Marx could not deny the historicity and empirical quality of his own ideas and values, meanwhile migrated into more or less utopian political and economic systems throughout the twentieth century.
Therefore, the anthropological challenge of utopia appears, for us, in the process of transformation of value as a practicality that emerges from the poïesis of social life.
A crucial point here is thus the exploration of the complex connection between utopia and immediacy, the present, the here and now, everyday life − the very substance of the anthropological inquiry. The detailed genealogy offered by Michael Gardiner concerning the (often neglected) French scholarship of utopia is of first importance in this regard. Gardiner approaches the work of Charles Fourier, André Breton, Henri Lefebvre, the Situationist International and Michel de Certeau because they all share an interest for the ‘thickness’ of the everyday, for genuine sociality and human happiness, a concern for bringing ‘lived life’ into the forefront and condemning in the same movement what Ernst Bloch called ‘abstract utopianism’ (Gardiner 1995: 90). Fourier disqualified what he termed as “sophistical science”, which had “so long governed and mislead the human mind” (Fourier 1971: 24) for its lack of connection to everyday life and human needs. He was concerned with alleviating the vicissitudes of day-to-day existence and concentrated his intellectual energies on finding ways to liberate humans from existential sufferings. In the twentieth century, Fourier’s work would influence the surrealist André Breton, who described ← xvi | xvii → him in 1947 as a prophet of love and imagination. Breton was also highly concerned by the transformation of everyday life. In this sense, Gardiner qualified the surrealist movement “as a special manifestation of utopianism”. ‘Surrealism’ was thus the name for the destruction of the established dichotomy between the state of dream and the supposed ‘reality’, “which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a sur-reality” (Breton 1969: 14). To subvert this boundary, psychological and artistic experiments, aimed at a “total liberation, not only from ways of thinking but also from pre-established means of expression (…) a maximum of adventure” (Breton 1993: 25), became political acts. The utopian impetus of Surrealism stands upon the embracing of poetry, dreams and the marvellous as practical tools to change quotidian life.
Continuing the genealogy suggested by Gardiner, another French theorist took the issue of everyday life to heart: the unrepentant Marxist Henri Lefebvre, born in 1901 in Hagetmau. In his book The Critique of Everyday Life (first volume published in 1947), Lefebvre criticized the abstract rationalism and philosophical idealism which see the everyday as the site of the trivial, of the inconsistent, while other spheres of human activities must deserve all the attention of thinkers (art, philosophy and science). According to Lefebvre, this hierarchical perspective provoked no less than the denigration of the lived experience of time, space and the body. Lefebvre denounced the peril of modernity and lamented how neo-capitalism functionalized the poïesis of daily life by limiting imaginative, emotional and creative human activities (Gardiner 1995: 99). In this context, Lefebvre proposed the concept of ‘critical utopianism’ to describe a utopian concern with the desires and expectations of daily life: “All thinking that has to do with action has a utopian element. Ideas that stimulate action, such as liberty and happiness, must contain a utopian element. This is not a refutation of such ideals; it is, rather, a necessary condition of the project of changing life” (Lefebvre 1988: 87).
Within this framework, the Situationist International, in the lines of Breton and Lefebvre, denounced the alienation of daily life under capitalism: everyday time is commodified. Guy Debord argued that under modernity “all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles” (1987: 1). The spectacle is understood as a “refinement of philosophical ← xvii | xviii → idealism” (Gardiner 1995: 104). To transform everyday life, the Situationist International encouraged the masses and the proletariat to take control over time and space through practical actions – preventing capitalism from defining space in its own terms, letting go of lethargy and creating their own ‘situation’. The practical means of this ‘living critique’ were the détournement and the dérive, different ways of introducing utopian elements into everyday life resisting the reduction of lived experience under modernity: “Utopia, according to the Situationist International, is about the realm of the possible, in the sense that the here and now contains within it all the necessary materials for a transfigured social existence” (Gardiner 1995: 108).
Michel de Certeau also figures in this tradition of thinking of the praxis of utopia because he investigated the spaces of resistance and the possibility of human agency – or how people attribute unexpected meaning to cultural artefacts. In this sense, De Certeau argued (1984), creatively appropriating commodities in their way, individuals create their own space of utopia. This exploration of a neglected French tradition by Michael Gardiner reminds us that “subversive imagination is not dead, that the ‘people’ are capable of generating a utopian space that contests the functioning of an anonymous structure of technocratic power” (Gardiner 1995: 116).
To change daily life is also a feature of contemporary ‘nowtopian’ agendas. In this movement, utopia is not about a promised future nor an idealized past but about the actions of men and women struggling to give positive meaning to their daily work and concomitantly to their existence. Carlsson and Manning define the term nowtopia as “the myriad efforts to reclaim and reinvent work against the logic of capital” (2010: 925). Here again, as in David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope (2000), the sense of existence under conditions imposed by the global market is at stake. The authors identify various spaces where groups meet needs (transportation, food and communication) through unpaid practical and enjoyable work. In a Fourierian fashion, working for love – and not for money – is possibly the utopian impulse of this movement. The authors select three movements where they see forms of utopia at work: emerging grassroots bicycle movements, DIY movements, vacant lot gardeners in urban settings and collaborative networks: “this constellation of practices, if taken together, is an elaborate, decentralized, uncoordinated collective research ← xviii | xix → and development effort exploring a potentially post-capitalist, post-petroleum future” (2010: 926). But as both authors recall: “Nowtopia is not utopia – not Sir Thomas More’s unachievable ideal utopia, nor the utopia that intentional communities have attempted to calculate and construct. Nowtopia is a self-emancipatory process that is happening continuously” (2010: 951). Here again, and through political theory, immediacy is articulated with the utopian impulse in a concrete way.
What we see above are what could be called programmatic configurations of utopia, which more often than not have met challenges in their process of concretization. What is interesting, from an anthropological perspective, is precisely how ‘utopian spaces’ work by “creating the change they wish to encounter” (Cooper 2014: 2) and how such ideas transform and evolve in the oscillation between imagination and actualization. From this viewpoint, as Davina Cooper recently pointed out (2014), potentially transformative concepts can change during the process of utopian experimentation. She mentions as examples the emergence of the discourse of equality in the practice of public nudism as a ‘presupposition’, “a form of expression constituted and conveyed by action” (2014: 77–78), which wasn’t present under the form of a utopian ideal supporting the initial project. She also mentions how the practice of Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) across the UK, motivated by utopian ideals of creating empowering and economically fairer forms of trading, clashes with other temporalities of wage labour on a daily basis.
It is precisely this kind of utopian process identified by Cooper that the anthropological endeavour, and in particular its ethnographic method, can best help document: the actualization/concretization of utopias, not understood any more as projections, but as transforming materializations. As we argued elsewhere (Maskens and Blanes 2016), ethnography, as both research and writing method, allows us a specific genre for describing social life, but also, through its ethical, historical, political and epistemological implications, for acknowledging its inherently generative, creative and incomplete dimensions – the gap or connection between peoples’ worldviews and their everyday lives. This is precisely what we attempt in this volume. The contributions included here identify, through their individual ethnographies, three paths in the process: what we call utopian temporalities, territorialities and relationalities. In the following sections we ← xix | xx → will explore how each of those paths shares a space of commonality with anthropology and utopia.
The Temporalities of Utopia
- XXXVIII, 210
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2018 (October)
- Utopia and anthropology empirical utopias immanence
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. XXXVIII, 210 pp., 7 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w, 5 tables