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The Concept of Utopia

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Ruth Levitas

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris, and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia remains the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

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Chapter 7 A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies 179

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chapter 7 A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies In this chapter we turn to the way in which the various issues and problems already discussed are dealt with in contemporary utopian studies. Although utopian studies has undergone a dramatic growth in the last three decades, it remains a relatively new field of academic study. Moreover, it is interdis- ciplinary in character, drawing on literature (in many languages), history, philosophy, architecture, sociology, politics and religion. In consequence there is a great diversity of both subject-matter and approach. Such a situa- tion may be viewed as one of creative disorder or of debilitating confusion. In either case, there is a problem of identifying the distinctive object of study or distinctive theoretical approach which characterises the field; the definition of utopia thus has important implications for its development. The range and diversity of utopian studies means that this overview can only seek to map the main features of contemporary scholarship and illustrate the way in which the concept of utopia itself is defined and deployed. Outside academic circles the term utopia is used frequently, but with very little rigour. Colloquial usage reiterates More’s pun: the good place is no place; utopia is a nice idea but totally unrealistic. Sometimes the positive connotations are missing altogether and utopian becomes synonymous with unrealistic. Sometimes utopia is viewed even more negatively and equated with totalitarianism. Within utopian studies one would expect both a more positive orientation to utopia and a greater degree of reflection on the...

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