Much of this blog will be devoted to explaining, arguing for and thinking through problems related to the concept of nomadic utopianism and the utopian spectrum, something I’m developing in my PhD thesis. Given that, it seemed sensible to devote its first post to providing a brief summary of what on earth it’s all about.
Nomadic utopianism draws on critical theory, utopian studies, utopian literature, feminism, anarchist political thought and the works of Gilles Deleuze (and Felix Guattari) to develop a nonhierarchical, immanent theory of utopianism. Unlike much recent utopian studies thought, the nomadic utopia remains spatially defined (many recent theorists see utopia as a process)- but is utopian only to the extent that it is open to difference and further change (and to the extent that the further change is open to further change, and so on).
The classical relationship between Utopia and Utopianism is inverted by nomadic utopianism. Traditionally, Utopia occupies a transcendent space beyond the present (either spatially or temporally), with Utopianism being the belief that such a society is possible/desirable and the drive to realise such a society (which is often- although not always- marked by perfection). With nomadic utopianism, by contrast, the utopianism is primary- it constitutes a desire to escape from hierarchy and closure (which, following Deleuze, I see as linked), with the nomadic utopia being the community which results from this utopianism. This communal space remains a nomadic utopia for as long as it remains traversed by the forces of nomadic utopianism: for as long as it remains in a state of ‘becoming’.
It is, of course, impossible (and undesirable) for any communal space to be entirely devoid of hierarchy and in a state of complete flux. Thus, there is the need for a ‘utopian spectrum’, which runs from nomadic utopianism at one end to ‘State Utopianism’ at the other (I take the term ‘State’ from the works of Deleuze and Guattari; it relates to a form of thought rather than a geopolitical entity).
State Utopianism relates to the State Utopia: a hierarchical community which sees itself (or is seen before its realisation) as perfect (or as perfect-as-possible) and rejects difference and change. Somewhat counter-intuitively, a State Utopia is therefore Utopian, dystopian (it is hierarchical and rejects difference) and anti-utopian (because it rejects change). State Utopias may be transgressive (located beyond the present, as classic Utopias are) or ‘realist’ (a present which sees itself as perfect or as perfect-as-possible). As with the nomadic utopia, it is impossible to realise a State Utopia in its pure form, as even one thought of how the world could be otherwise in the mind of one community member would constitute a questioning of its perfection.
Much of my work concerns the movement of communities (musical, educational, societal and fictional) on the spectrum. Whilst I argue in favour of a nomadic utopianism, I believe that transgressive State Utopianism is a powerful force, and that utopias nearer the nomadic pole will necessarily ossify towards the State pole. Whilst this is something to be wary of, it is not necessarily a bad thing- and communities may be at their most productive when they begin this movement, but have not fully ossified into hierarchy and a belief in their own perfection.