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  • Response 3: Transgressive Utopianism and Direct Activism
  • Heather Alberro

This is an important time to revisit questions concerning the historical underpinnings of utopianism as a mode of praxis and theoretical endeavor, its potential oversights and where it ought to venture in the decades to come. The multidisciplinary Hispanic utopian project Histopia discussed by Ramirez-Blanco offers a helpful starting point for this discussion. Especially noteworthy, in my view, is Histopia’s recognition of and interest in engaging with manifestations of utopianism beyond academia and examining the full spectrum of the utopian imaginary, from texts to social movements. Similarly important is what Ramirez-Blanco alludes to as Histopia’s laudable attempts to “decenter” the discipline toward the Spanish-speaking world. This recalls the wider, vital work of decolonizing utopian studies highlighted by Edwards and others in this piece so that it is inclusive of the immeasurably diverse array of utopian imaginaries and modes of praxis around the globe. To reduce such diverse manifestations to the lens of a single medium or cultural-historical context would be a profound intellectual and ethical misdeed.

A related example of such decolonial work is Histopia’s emphasis on history as opposed to the canon’s traditional emphasis on texts. Here, I was [End Page 550] wondering if you (Ramirez-Blanco) could elaborate further on what this entails. That is, what is Histopia’s conceptualization of history vis-à-vis the now and “to-come,” and their relation more generally to the utopian impulse? Is this conceptualization akin to the (Western) utopian conception of time as a linear progression from an archaic past toward a radiant future toward some “advanced” end state?1 Or does it depart from this modernist construct and, if so, in what ways? What is the role of prefigurative (utopian) activist movements in the history of social transformation, in your view?

With movements like 15M in Spain that you discuss, what do you see as the transformative utopian potential of their denunciations of the status quo, however fleeting? What of their annunciations? That is, what were they gesturing toward, and what did their imaginings of “a better” consist of ? How do public assemblies as “performances” factor into these visions? I’m curious to know what patterns, if any, can be traced across contemporary left-social movements. My own research with radical environmental activists has found that they exhibit the former aspect of the utopian mode—denunciation—with immense power and potency. Like the 15M movement, their direct activism is postparliamentary given their profound disaffection with the capitalist state and its perceived collusion with extractive industries driving ecological breakdown. The aspect of annunciation for them, however, is much more complex and fragmented. They are similarly engaged in constant deliberations over the relative strengths and weaknesses of alternative modes of political organization and participation, particularly concerning which actors may be excluded. However, they do exhibit a consensus on certain things—especially their fervent desire for a renewed abundance of terrestrial life forms and an equally fervent refusal of the worst of possible worlds consisting of substantially diminished other-than-human life forms.

The question raised by Antonis concerning blueprints, or utopian modalities that provide fleshed-out visions of better worlds, is a similarly pertinent one for two key reasons: (1) in connection with the aforementioned vital work of decolonizing the utopian canon and imaginary, and (2) as a possible response to the mounting socio-ecological depredations of late-stage capitalism and the theft of the now and to-come from growing portions of the earth’s inhabitants. As Antonis highlights, some have suggested that utopianism’s pursuit of human and societal perfectibility—especially “blueprint” modalities aiming to implement a particular conception of “the good society”—harbor seeds of totalitarianism and intolerance of difference.2 [End Page 551] Indeed, inklings toward domination can be seen within some totalizing/blue-printing utopias and their cultural-historical links to Enlightenment projects of universal conquest, namely the hegemonic “utopias” of Western modernity in the form of colonial-capitalism.3 These totalizing visions of progress and “the good life” have been systematically ending other-than-Western worlds for centuries, leading to our present state of ruination.

Hence why subsequent modalities...