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Utopian Effects, Dystopian Pleasures


Peter Fitting

Edited By Brian Greenspan

This collection brings together for the first time Peter Fitting’s writings about the utopian impulse as expressed in science fiction, fantasy, cinema, architecture, and cultural theory. These wide-ranging essays trace the constant reconsideration of the utopian project itself over the past four decades, from its mid-twentieth century period of decline to its revival in counter-cultural science fiction of the 1960s and ‘70s, its second decline with the «dystopian turn» in film, and the rise of feminist pessimism in the 1980s.

These pages reveal what popular utopian, dystopian, and science-fiction narratives tell us about today’s most pressing political issues, including gender equity, education reform, technological change, capitalist excess, state-sanctioned violence, and the challenges of effecting lasting political change. Through analyses of various popular genres and media, the author demonstrates how utopian visions written from particular political perspectives transcend narrowly partisan concerns to stoke our collective desire for another world and a more adequate human future, teaching us how to become the citizens and subjects that a utopian society demands.

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CHAPTER 7: A Short History of Utopian Studies


Utopian scholarship is in the state of most sciences in the nineteenth century when better description was the basis of building toward more effective understandings of the phenomena being studied.

– Lyman Tower Sargent (1994: 3)

There are evident links between science fiction and utopia, although the former term only came into general usage in the middle of the twentieth century, while “utopia” dates back to More’s classic (although as we shall see, the term only came to refer to a genre of literature in the nineteenth century). In the 1950s, such utopian scholars as Glen Negley and J. Max Patrick were dismissive of the role of science fiction in utopian literature, although utopian and dystopian currents have always been important to science fiction.1 By the 1970s, however, there was a revival of utopian writing in English, particularly in the United States, most of it published as science fiction and much of it written by sf writers.2

Utopian studies – like utopia itself – found a new life with the revival of utopianism in the 1970s – most obviously following the general social upheaval of the 1960s, which contributed to efforts to understand better radical traditions and alternative visions, particularly in a U.S. in which the Cold War and McCarthyism had nearly silenced a generation of activists.3 In fact, the revival of utopian writing was in many ways made possible by science fiction, for as non-realistic fiction, as a genre of fiction that in many instances was set...

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