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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 8 Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia 207

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chapter 8 Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia The definitions of utopia discussed in this book, and those current in con- temporary utopian studies, refer to form, function or content, or some combination of these; thus they may have descriptive, analytic and norma- tive elements. They may lead to broad views of what is utopian, as in the case of the Manuels, or (even more so) Bloch, or to narrow demarcations as in the case of Mannheim or Davis. Further, the broad/narrow distinc- tion cuts across that of defining utopia in terms of form or function; Davis (and to some extent the Manuels) use a definition in terms of form, Bloch and Mannheim concentrate on function. In this final chapter it will be argued that narrow definitions in terms of content or form or function are all undesirable; that any definition must be able to incorporate a wide range of forms, functions and contents; and that therefore a broad defini- tion is essential. This will necessarily leave the boundaries of utopia vague but while this may be problematic, it is greatly less so than the problems which arise from more restrictive definitions. Any general definition needs to accommodate the fact that utopian scholarship does encompass a wide variety of approaches and questions, and this multi-dimensional approach is itself fruitful. One of the reasons why people work with different definitions of utopia is that they are asking different questions; Davis’s desire to understand the institutional means by which seventeenth-century utopians contained the scarcity...

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