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Exploring the Utopian Impulse

Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice

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Edited By Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan

Exploring the Utopian Impulse presents a series of essays by an international and trans-disciplinary group of contributors that explores the nature and extent of the utopian impulse. Working across a range of historical periods and cultures, the essays investigate key aspects of utopian theory, texts, and socio-political practices. Even as some critique Utopia, others extend its reach beyond the limits of the modern western tradition within which utopianism has usually been understood. The explorations offered herein will take readers over familiar ground in new ways as well as carry them into new territories of hope and engagement.
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Witchcrafting Selves: Remaking Person and Community in a Neo-Pagan Utopian Scene

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← 342 | 343 → ANDREW J. BROWN

Dorinne Kondo’s 1990 ethnography of a Japanese workplace, Crafting Selves, was influential in cultural anthropology because it articulated an important change of emphasis for this field of study. This change in emphasis was to treat the individual not just as a product and carrier of culture but as an active agent who was manipulating cultural materials for various ends – including the creation of a socially embedded self. This perspective does not, however, replace earlier insights that individuals are intimately constructed within social and cultural environments. In Kondo’s ethnography, a stress upon individual agency does not mean that these workers then transcend culture or gain some particular, self-conscious vantage point from which they can view their own efforts at strategic self-construction. Kondo is describing people who are acting with and within culturally-ordered expectations: they are being Japanese, being women, being young women, and being Japanese employees. The point is that their renderings of cultural scripts are by no means static, passive, or predictable.

In this essay, however, I look at people who are actively trying to transcend their culture. In so doing, they are seeking to re-create not only a new kind of socially-embedded self but a new kind of culture as well. In some sense, this brings us back to old dilemmas of structure and agency. As we try to conceptualize and explain the actions of human beings, where do we strike the balance between treating people as self-willed, creative actors...

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