The article discusses the presence of emancipatory utopian ideas in Ethiopian history through a critical hermeneutical interpretation of Lalibela. Drawing on the concept of concrete utopia, the paper argues that the works and Chronicles of Lalibela secrete a concrete utopian surplus that points to the conceptualization of knowledge as critique and as the mastery of nature, of labor as a transformative and emancipatory activity, and of power relations as expressions of equality between subjects and ruler. The article contends that Lalibela's utopian surplus implies questions and reflections about social transformation, which, being rooted in Ethiopian history, provide possibilities for developing emancipatory ideas and practices that respond to the modern needs and aspirations of Ethiopians. It argues that, if Ethiopia is to extricate herself from the poverty and tyranny traps of passive modernization and successfully meet the challenges of modernity, reflection on and the quest for democracy and prosperity need to link up with the concrete utopian surpluses that inform Ethiopian history.


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pp. 95-121
Launched on MUSE
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