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Transgressive Utopianism

Essays in Honor of Lucy Sargisson


Edited By Raffaella Baccolini and Lyman Tower Sargent

In 2014, when Lucy Sargisson was promoted to professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, at the University of Nottingham, she became the first and, so far, only, professor of utopian studies. This choice symbolized the centrality of utopianism to her life, thought, and educational practice. In three books, each in their own way groundbreaking, a fourth book co-authored by one of us, and in important articles, her work falls into four primary areas: political theory, feminism, environmentalism, and intentional communities, with much of her work intersecting two, three, or even all four. And in all her work, she brings the lens of utopianism to bear on the subject and, in doing so, illuminates both utopianism and the subject at hand. The volume honors Sargisson’s contributions to the field of utopian studies, with contributions by Ibtisam Ahmed, Raffaella Baccolini, David M. Bell, Suryamayi Clarence-Smith, Chris Coates, Elena Colombo, Davina Cooper, Rhiannon Firth, Ruth Levitas, Sarah Lohmann, Almudena Machado-Jiménez, Dunja M. Mohr, Tom Moylan, Robyn Muir, José Reis, Lyman Tower Sargent, Lucy Sargisson, Simon Spiegel, Maria Varsam, and Laura Winter.

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“What isn’t living dies”: Utopia as Living Organism in Joanna Russ’s The Female Man and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time: SARAH LOHMANN



In Contemporary Feminist Utopianism, Lucy Sargisson suggests that feminist utopianism is “transgressive of the standard view of utopias as perfection because of a desire to escape closure” (4); her proposed model of utopian thought resists such closure by going beyond binary systems regarding the construction of meaning. Applied to utopian literature, Tom Moylan appears to identify a similar sense of innate openness or dynamism within a group of primarily feminist utopian novels that he terms “critical utopias” (cf. Demand). These novels, which include Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974), and Samuel R. Delany’s Triton (1976), are distinguished by the fact that what Bülent Somay calls the fictive “utopian locus” is shifted from individual to community, thus conceiving of a better world for those who need it most: the marginalized and systemically oppressed, such as women and people of color (25). According to Moylan, this in turn allows these narratives to “dwell on the conflict between the originary world and the utopian society opposed to it so the process of social change is more directly articulated”; this, he claims, renders them “more recognizable and dynamic alternatives” to the “systematizing boredom of the traditional utopia” while “negat[ing] the negation of utopia by the forces of twentieth century history” (10). Moreover, the fact that these authors all have their literary origins in science fiction appears to contribute to this dynamism: the genre’s creation ←29 | 30...

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