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Alternative Worlds

Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900


Edited By Ricarda Vidal and Ingo Cornils

In an attempt to counteract the doom and gloom of the economic crisis and the politicians’ overused dictum that ‘there is no alternative’, this interdisciplinary collection presents a number of alternative worlds that were conceived over the course of the last century. While change at the macro level was the focus of most of the ideological struggles of the twentieth century, the real impetus for change came from the blue-sky thinking of scientists, engineers, architects, sociologists, planners and writers, all of whom imagined alternatives to the status quo.
Following a roughly chronological order from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present, this book explores the dreams, plans and hopes as well as the nightmares and fears that are an integral part of alternative thinking in the Western hemisphere. The alternative worlds at the centre of the individual essays can each be seen as crucial to the history of the past one hundred years. While these alternative worlds reflect their particular cultural context, they also inform historical developments in a wider sense and continue to resonate in the present.
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In the spring of 2011, visual culture scholar Ricarda Vidal organised a seminar series at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study on the topic of ‘Alternative Worlds’. The series was conceived as an antidote to the then pervasive sense of gloom following the British government’s austerity drive in the wake of the global financial crash and as an opportunity to reflect on the many manifestations of ‘utopian desire’ in the twentieth century. The choice of the word ‘alternative’ rather than ‘utopian’ was deliberate, as it provided the freedom to step outside an established discourse. This volume is intended to bring the discussion to a wider audience.

It is no secret that utopian thinking has been in crisis for some time. As early as the end of the 1970s, Frank and Fritzie Manuel mused:

Are we witnessing a running down of the utopia-making machine of the West? Or is it only a temporary debility? Does the utopia of the counterculture herald an authentic rebirth? Must utopias henceforth be nothing but childish fairytales?1

Since then, utopian studies have become mainstream and have subsumed every ‘progressive’ political thought, practical action and literary imagination (including science fiction)2 under their paradigm. However, with the fall of communism and the rise of a global communication network utopians have been fighting a rear-guard action. Frederick Jameson acknow­ledges the challenges faced by the utopian ‘programme’ but insists that the ← 1 | 2 → utopian ‘impulse’ for radical...

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