I’ve been very taken with the idea behind this conference, which examines the past, present and future of utopias. It’s being held in New York in September, and the call for papers is open (details here) until 30 June. I can’t attend myself, but what a great topic!
The organisers pose some attractive questions about the past and present of utopia. The future, reasonably enough, is summarised by a question mark.
I certainly have an interest in the history of utopian thinking and practice. I encountered numerous cases in researching the British work camp tradition, ranging from the Christian Socialist settlement at Starnthwaite and the Tolstoyan anarchists of Whiteway to the Zionist David Eder training farm, the Aryan work camps of Rolf Gardiner’s group, and the peace-builders of Gryth Fyrd. All of these sought to prefigure a different world; and although none managed to persist with its original intentions, some lasted much longer than others.
Given that work camps are seriously hard work, literally as well as figuratively, there may well be some lessons to be learned from these stories. The tension between academic rigour and utopian activism is one of life’s great pleasures. And I very much hope that utopian thinking and practices are far from dead: if we cannot imagine a different way of living from the world around us at present, we may as well turn to the bottle.