utopia?

i feel it necessary to come back to the topic of utopia. first it is a word that is of course connected to the possibilities of living differently, second it is widely used but very often not really in an accurate way. so i try to give you my definition and try to give a short description of my understanding of the term.

i am actually rather sure that utopia can not be used, respectively only in a very restricted way in connection to modern society. this because i do not believe that in modern society we can speak of a dominant ideology (although the cynic in me screams yes! greed!). the for me convincing descriptions of society are structural descriptions, splitting society into different fields with different mechanisms to produce sense in and of the world. therefore an utopia related to the society as a whole could only be a structural utopia – something that barthes actually formulates in the concept of the everyday utopia. but i think it is important to point out that the actual utopia is an individual one, which can be described in general terms only as ones own rhythm. of course this also radically un- or even anti-social (in the sense that your own utopia is not shared by anyone) and maybe in a melancholic way singular (or individualistic, if you want).

that is why i think that the term utopia, which refers to a clearly formulated way of living for every member of the society is something like a step back into a world dominated by one ideology. i would call that totalitarian. a dominating ideology would have the advantage that every member of society would know her / his place and know who they are. and obviously quite a lot of people would like to know that and formulate this as an utopia. and i would rather propose to call that a romaticised look to a history that never happened that way. everyday experience teaches me that my position in society is not that clear – it depends upon the context i’m in. also i do not see my identity as “natural” or “god given”. it is certainly constructed within society (don’t confound being constructed with volatile or being freely eligible).

to sum it up: for me the term utopia describes a perfect society where every member of society has her/his perfect place (and is therefore happy). but the ideas and definitions of identity and society and also of the social space have changed radically in the last, hmmm, hundred years. there have been ferocious attempts in the twentieth century to go back to a society with one dominat ideology to reach an utopian state – all of them with terrible consequences.

so the use of the term utopia triggers in me a certain uneasyness: the main uses are either ideological (what i call “backwards”), or very general (the human rights charta), or structural (barthes), or partial (a political utopia, an economic utopia, etc.). that is why i would actually prefer to see other terms used – terms that take into account the for modern society new ways of formulating and constructing identities, social relationships and social space.

you want more utopia? i registered in the last years a growing interest in the topic of the utopian from the side of theory. there are myriad ways to approach that topic, here two starting points:

the society for utopian studies

utopia and utopianism – utopian studies journal

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