This deliberately presentist essay uses More’s Utopia to contribute to the debate over the relationship between environmentalism and postcolonialism; explore the relationship between a text’s contexts and “meaning(s)”; and illustrate how utopian thinking can expose contradictions underlying other forms of imagining better worlds. Contextualizing Utopia with two different twenty-first-century comparators, it interrogates assumptions that Utopia has an unproblematic relation to colonialism and that it ignores environmental concerns. In illustrating how different contextualizations of the same passage can produce radically different readings of the text in which it appears, this essay foregrounds issues of interpretation that may be of use to scholars and teachers of literary texts. It concludes that although Utopia can help us acknowledge that environmental and colonial arguments sometimes share similar ethical premises, “Utopian” thinking, in its foregrounding of the difficulties, contradictions, and irresolutions of human interactions, is indispensable to a politics that seeks to imagine a better world.


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pp. 23-43
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