- UtopiasAn Introduction
The focus of this special issue of Cultural Politics is the politics of utopia and dystopia in the contemporary world, where motivated social change no longer seems possible, or is at least remote. Capital’s overwhelming imperative to consume renders hope of radical or wide-scale social, economic, and political change seemingly impossible, so that the legacy of Francis Fukuyama’s (1992) end of history thesis—a philosophical rerun of Margaret Thatcher’s TINA (There Is No Alternative)—is, precisely, a permanent present. However, it is just possible that recent shocks to the global economic system, which demonstrate the irrationality of market forces (as well as their basis in wealth accumulation for the few at the expense of the many), have provoked the emergence of a global apocalyptic, or dystopic, tone. The central message of this tone, or atmosphere, which colors cultural perceptions of the future of globalization, is that the global system we currently inhabit no longer works—actually, it never did—and is unsustainable, not only in terms of its own ambitions, but also because of the increasingly pressing need to address climate change. Yet there are few alternative worldviews that suggest a new way within the current parameters of the liberal, democratic, capitalist hegemon. Beyond these parameters, after the demise of state socialism in the 1990s, is what might be called an uncharted terrain. But this can also be called an experimental, utopian terrain. Utopia has been progressively demonized over the course of the liberal period because of its association with totalitarian politics in the Eastern bloc, and yet, it is [End Page 125] perhaps here, in new forms of (another) New Left, that we must look for our alternatives to the current impasse. The utopian represents a strange, foreboding place in the contemporary global world because of its forced association with Stalin and Hitler, but it is to this psycho-political place that people may be drawn, simply because the current model of neoliberal, consumer capitalist globalization appears fatally flawed as well as intrinsically unjust. Perhaps, then, the present, which had, since the 1970s, seemed permanently oriented toward consumerism, represents a critical moment when one paradigm seems likely to give way. In the resulting cracks, a new model of social, political, and economic organization will emerge.
The objective of this special issue of Cultural Politics is to explore this critical moment through discussions of both the dystopic articulation of the present and explorations of the ways in which this dystopian worldview points toward alternative utopian futures.
In many respects, the financial crisis that engulfed the world’s largest economies in 2008, and has continued to reverberate since, represented the end of the epoch of neoliberal capitalism introduced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s and early 1980s and advanced by global organizations such as the International Monetary Fund through the 1990s and into the 2000s. The inexorable rise to global dominance of the neoliberal model from the late 1970s onward was, of course, punctuated by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the collapse of Eastern European socialism. These events were, in part, produced by a limited consumerism within the Eastern bloc, which could not deliver the dreams conjured by the more aggressive media consumerism of the West. At the same time, the Chinese economic miracle, and the rise of a new brand of Red, or authoritarian, capitalism, led many to believe that capitalist economics was now the only game in town. Thinkers such as Francis Fukuyama (1992) felt confident in being able to assert the end of history, if even the Chinese were on the way to becoming liberal, democratic, and Western—which, of course, assumed that the Chinese turn to the market would be followed by democracy (it wasn’t). Large-scale historical change was considered to be over. Unhistorical struggle, such as the war on terror, might continue in its asymmetrical ways, but there would be no more serious ideological change. Conflicts would be dispersed and localized. Strangely, most alternative scenarios that have been proposed were even more so, and hence open to the...