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Reviewed by:
  • Act 18. Utopia e Ciência
  • Sofia de Melo Araújo
Maria Lourdes Câncio Martins, ed. Act 18. Utopia e Ciência. Lisbon: Húmus, 2009. 222 pp. €10, 60, ISBN: 978-989-8139-20-7.

Being the product of human imagination, utopias, both eutopias and dystopias, have often been a meeting point for social and political theories and scientific and technical readings. If Lamartine conceived utopias as premature [End Page 386] truths, nowhere is this more accurate than in their visions for the science and technology of the future. And, in fact, much as in science, utopias function as multidisciplinary laboratories for the controlled testing of a given theory.

As for the role of science within utopian writings, it shows a duality compatible with that outside the literary realm: Over time, science has been interpreted both as the means for human evolution and societal amelioration (Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis is a good example, as later is Positivism) and as an instrument with the potential to destroy humanity altogether, a view that goes back to the Garden of Eden and reaches its apex with nuclear bombs. Even in the eighteenth century, the period of greater faith in science as the ultimate source of enlightenment, utopists like Dom Deschamps still projected ideal states of blissfully ignorant men and women.

In 2007 many renowned specialists from various fields gathered for a scientific meeting held at the University of Lisbon to discuss the many facets of utopian thinking and the ways in which scientific evolution shapes human readings of alternative worlds. The meeting was linked to ACUME 2, “Interfacing Science, Literature, and Humanities,” the research project led by Professor Vita Fortunati, as well as to the University of Lisbon’s Centre for Comparative Studies. It was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. Two years later, Professor Lourdes Câncio Martins edited a volume based on the many contributions presented at the conference. The volume is part of the ACT series—“Alterities, Crossings, Transfers”—and it includes thirteen essays by scholars from Brazil, France, Italy, Portugal, and the United States, written in English, Portuguese, and French.

“Eutopias and Dystopias of Education,” by Lyman Tower Sargent, is an extensive and fundamental reading of education as one of the two areas, along with the law, considered most necessary for change to be effective in utopian terms. The author admittedly chose to focus on the English-language tradition. Traveling from More (and, implicitly, before) to the twentieth century, Sargent both reads education in utopia as a means for ideological perpetuation in terms of social norms, behavior, and also specific skills and pinpoints a shift from an education project centered in moral and behavioral issues to today’s skill-oriented learning, which he perceives as a consequence of the greater complexity of scientific knowledge and technological competence. In his voyage across time, Sargent is able to list all the relevant questions to be asked of any utopian educational project (compulsory/voluntary, [End Page 387] target learners, gender, educators, moral/intellectual/technical aim, content, level desired, outside authority). He also manages to shed light on common anachronisms, reminding us how, for instance, lifelong learning is an ancient concept defended also by Thomas More. Touching on authors such as Samuel Hartlib and Samuel Gott, Clement Barksdale, Clara Reeves, first American educational utopist William Smith, Robert Owen, Robert Pemberton, Edward Bellamy, Solomon Schindler, H. G. Wells, John Dewey, Robert Hutchins, Aldous Huxley, and B. F. Skinner, Sargent establishes the idea of education as a fundamental issue in utopian thinking and one that is deeply influenced by advances in science and technology, as well as by politics and religion. He also emphasizes contemporary concern over the wise use of technology and the overall notion that scientific development must be subjected to exterior supervision. Sargent finishes his article with an appeal to action for educators so that they question whether the system in which they work is compatible with utopian expectations over the centuries and, if not, change it.

Jean Bessière’s “Littérature de science-fiction: Une Vue de nulle-part. Notes pour une mise en situation...


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