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  • Hispanic Utopian Studies and Activism as a Prompt
  • Julia Ramírez-Blanco (bio)

In the last few years I have come to the Utopian Studies Societýs yearly conference as part of a smaller group, one that has its own parallel history in the left corner of the South of Europe and is networked mostly with Latin America. I am referring to the interdisciplinary research group Histopia, which has its base in Madrid́s Autónoma University, is comprised of twenty-seven researchers from different institutions, and is coordinated by historian Juan Pro. As the name Histopia suggests, it was founded by historians. From the beginning there have been people from other fields, such as political science, architecture, cultural studies, and art history. The aim was always understanding utopianism beyond the study of texts, and centering research in everything that utopianism produces, such as social movements, political programs, and urban programs. In this sense, a premise was to understand utopias not as a footnote in history or a series of eccentric events, but as a guiding force that drives a [End Page 510] history. This placing of utopianism in history was clearly announced in the grouṕs website:

Histopia seeks to go beyond the philological approach that predominates in Utopian Studies and to historicize the study of contemporary utopias and dystopias, showing how they respond to the contexts in which they arise, since they reflect the problems and frustrations of a society as well as the aspirations for change it contains, and the conditions of possibility that a particular cultural and emotional framework offers for developing them.1

Together with this focus on history, which departs from the more text-centered traditions of an important part of utopian studies, the other main particularity of Histopia is its decentralizing of utopian studies towards the Spanish-speaking world. And to this end, the group also founded the Transatlantic Network for the Study of Utopias, which was created in 2015 to put in communication over 250 researchers, most of them from Latin America, but also from other places such as Australia or Japan.2

The Spanish statés research funding programs have provided the bureaucratic framework and the material resources for the research group since 2015. Together with seminars, conferences, or workshops, the resulting publications have been linked with utopian literature, with dystopia, and with a focus on viewing history through the lens of utopia. One of the most recent endeavors has been a radically collective one, articulating a Dictionary of Utopian Places written by a multitude of authors.3 Histopia has also initiated several projects with schools, for the most part ongoing, and there have been many attempts to disseminate its work through radio and video projects. And since its founding, Histopia has tried reaching out beyond the Academy—an effort that is finally gaining success. In 2021 the international conference Intentional Communities: Concrete Utopias in History was extremely fruitful: we saw involved participation both in various interventions, and through activities such as streaming. Participants included people and organizations from social movements and from intentional communities.

I want to argue here that the very formation of Histopia was a logical development from certain political triggers—and in particular, the so-called 15M Movement, a series of anti-austerity protests and direct-democracy initiatives that ignited antigovernment activism throughout Spain from 2011 on, culminating in the occupation of urban spaces (“encampments”) and in very large political assemblies. It is not just that the forces of activism were [End Page 511] reignited after 2011, and that its inheritors came together with the Histopia research group; the very existence of Histopia, I am arguing, can be read as a consequence of the 15M encampment and its aftermath.

Prefigurative Practices

In May 2011, following the example of the Arab world, Madrid’s Puerta del Sol was populated by a crowd armed with posters, slogans, and self-made banners. On the inhospitable ground of the square, anonymous persons erected an encampment so complex that it functioned as a miniature city, with spaces for preparing food, for nursery care, for rest, for legal consultation, for anti-racist and/or feminist activity. All work was voluntary, and materials were...