Sunday, 9 March 2008

Just for Me.

Just some rough notes of my own thoughts on the reading and discussion of education, science and authority for my own future reference.

Education. Unsurprisingly closely related to the goals of each utopia – but can be revealing as to the author’s circumstance and secondary (or unconscious) intentions. More’s utopia cannot be understood solely in relation to restraining appetite and so minimizing pride, given his emphasis on the importance of labour and training for labour for all citizens. The economics and the education required to support the economic system are not essential to a simply Augustinian view of sin, free will and pride. Contra Goldie an explanation founded in the reception of Plato is not enough, lexis and praxis exist in reflexive, not deterministic, relationships. Resch’s view of Orwell’s struggle with accepting the full implications of both economic and intellectual egalitarianism similarly suggest a symbiosis of mind and body in utopia (and reflection between what Orwell thought he should believe and what he did believe). Down and Out in P&L useful here (Animal Farm a more effective dystopia? – cf CWB and Karl Steel over at ITM on the useful and artificially constraining otherness of the non-human – though I haven’t read it properly yet).

Science was easier to separate from education than I had imagined it would (or should) be. How unique is Plato’s desire for Philosophy as a route to justice? Many/most utopians either anti-intellectual or reserve high science for the elite (ULG asks directly whether any society can afford intellectuals). Education in most utopias has a more functional purpose in relationship to citizenship and labour. Interesting that few if any provide different educations for men and women (an essential first destabilising step for all utopian adventures is a radicalisation of gender/procreative norms).

The fear of Big Science and the need for Big Government to restrain it, is interestingly rooted by Weinberger in the works of Bacon. Read more about this – how is Bacon’s science rooted in his ideas about government (rather than the other way around as W. suggests). There is more to be thought through about the machine age. Jameson’s more optimistic view possible only because he de-materialises science – turns it into a fiction? If utopianism becomes too divorced from the possible can it’s ambiguity still work as a creatively critical space (Marin) – Never let Me Go restores the purpose?

I may have fallen in love with Robert Owen – eccentric old man that he may have become. Like Ebenezer Howard he has to be admired for getting things done. He also makes me sad that we never really dealt with the issue of property. Resch is right? It is unpalatable/ hard to understand his perspective on the dehumanizing consequences of extreme inequalities of wealth. Maybe it is a matter of scale – the introduction of a global perspective would make this seem more relevant to a contemporary audience.

Law – maybe all this reading which makes us think critically about the vocabularies of power and law that we use should come earlier in the term (though the later it comes the more sense it makes). My other regret is sidelining the medieval (not foregrounding it enough) Key’s article very useful. Not only provides a clear explanation of law, but also good for discussing continuity and change over long historical periods in the triadic relationship between law, education and family.

Stanford PE – on positive/ negative – and the current resolution in triadic relationships between agent, prevailing conditions, and becomings – shorter and more uptodate introduction than Berlin (which requires prior reading in Locke etc).

Goldie distinction between renaissance and modern (rise of sovereignty of civil law, behaviourism) useful – but not adequate given that writers (such as Morris) continue to discuss the relationship between life-long education and civil law in terms really very similar to those of Aquinas (Keys).

Anarchy – can’t think of a single utopian who is an anarchist (particularly not Annarres) – find my copy of Richard Sennett, The Uses of Disorder (1976). Annarres and Urras different only in their wealth systems not their political systems (Jameson again??). The whole book is really about consumerism (in 1974 disposable pyjamas would have seemed extremely attractive, and she must have recognised that)?

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Saturday, 8 March 2008

Article Relevant To Digital Utopia

This article, on the Times, is about Google's mapping of the real world via photography and the implications thereof.
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Monday, 3 March 2008

US seeks terrorists in web worlds

There's an article on the BBC entitled "US seeks terrorists in web worlds" which is quite interesting after the digital utopias seminar: Read more!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Week Nine: Authority and Freedom (Friday)

Suggested readings for our last class follows under the cut.

Do people need law to make them good? What is the best state of the commonwealth? What is the relationship between utopia, communism and anarchy?

Big History

Berlin, I., 1969, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, in I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty, London: Oxford University Press. New ed. in Berlin 2002, and in various places online. There is also an essay on 'positive and negative' liberty on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which updates the relevance of this essay.

Lyman Tower Sargent, 'Authority & Utopia: Utopianism in Political Thought'
Polity, Vol. 14, No. 4. (Summer, 1982), pp. 565-584.

Particular Historical Contexts
These all focus on a particular period, but are also prone to draw conclusions of their significance for ‘today’.

Robert Paul Resch, ‘Utopia, Dystopia, and the Middle Class in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four ‘, Boundary 2, Vol. 24, No. 1. (Spring, 1997), pp. 137-176.

Michael Holzman, ‘Anarchism and Utopia: William Morris's News from Nowhere’ ELH, Vol. 51, No. 3. (Autumn, 1984), pp. 589-603.

Mark Goldie, 'Obligations, utopias and their historical context', Historical Journal, 26 (1983), 727-46. renaissance utopias

Mary M. Keys, ‘Aquinas's Two Pedagogies: A Reconsideration of the Relation between Law and Moral Virtue’, American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 45, No. 3. (Jul., 2001), pp. 519-531. – medieval (More was clearly influenced by (and against) the influential thirteenth century theologian, Thomas of Aquinas).

Everything is available online.

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Week Nine: Science and Education

In week 9 we turn to the mind, and (on Monday) to education and science.

More under the cut...


What kinds of education do utopians advocate and why?
What is the purpose of education?
Who is to learn, and who is to teach?

• David Halpin, 'Utopianism and Education: The Legacy of Thomas More', British Journal of Educational Studies, 49 (2001), 299-315.
• Robert Owen, The Book of the New Moral Order, C7 (in The Reader, pp. 207-19).

• Miriam Eliav-Feldon, Realistic Utopias: The ideal imaginary societies of the Renaissance, 1516-1630 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), chapters 2, 3.

Science in utopia can be treated as a dilemma (the perfection or destruction of human nature), as time (a means of measuring progress, of shattering the present and reaching the future), as a fantasy through which we rethink and criticise the present (cyborgs and other aliens).

Science as Dilemma
Does science perfect or corrupt human nature?
Who is in control of science?
What is science?

• Robert P. Adams, ‘The social responsibilities of Science in Utopia, New Atlantis and after’ Journal of the History of Ideas (1949) [online] nota bene the date and check out the footnotes.
• J. C. Davis, 'Science and utopia: the history of a dilemma', in Nineteen Eighty-Four: Science between utopia and dystopia, ed. Everett Mendelsohn and Helga Nowotny (1984), pp. 21-48

Science as Disruption
What is the relationship between science, progress and change in Utopia?

• J. Weinberger, ‘Science and Rule in Bacon’s Utopia: An Introduction to the reading of New Atlantis’ The American Political Science Review, 70/3 (1976), pp. 865-885
• F. Jameson, ‘Progress versus Utopia, or, Can we imagine the Future’, Science-Fiction Studies 9, Part 2, no. 27 (July 1982): 147-158 reprinted in Archaeologies of the Future, part 2, chapter 4. This older article is thoroughly glossed in the thirteen chapters of part one of Archaeologies: ‘The Desire called Utopia’, culminating in ch 13.

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Building Utopia

Summary of last Friday's seminar discussion behind the cut. CWB’s article on ‘shape and story’ is a comparative history of western attitudes towards the potential for change in human nature. Like Goode (on the family) last week she traces these attitudes over a very long history, but unlike him she does not understand the ideas to have progressed or evolved in a linear or deterministic fashion. She explores the theme by picking on a single idea (the story of the werewolf) in three historical contexts from the second century, the twelfth century and the twentieth. She shows that each author was aware of a ‘tradition’ but adapted it in self-consciously different ways, with the twentieth century author being particularly eclectic and anachronistic in both commenting on and developing past traditions of the werewolf and adding in fresh ideas of her own. In that sense she provides quite a good model, different from Goode’s, in thinking about the history of ideas and the history of fiction over a long comparative time frame. Her point in all of this was to look at how frequently and with what variety (even within the single fictional tradition of the werewolf) authors within the ‘western tradition’ had written about the human body as a changing but constant element giving us an identity. CWB uses these stories to think about the relationship between body and mind in our understanding of identity (are we products of nature or nurture?) and suggests that there is a long tradition of understanding the changing body as informing our identity. This is something she has written a great deal about elsewhere – in her discussion of the bodiliness of Christian theology. Towards the end of the article she returns to the fourteenth century, to Dante, and looks at his transformation of this idea of metamorphosis both in Purgatory, but also in Paradise where the elaborate architecture of the heavenly city becomes an extension to the human form and the ultimate confirmation of the importance of ‘shape’ in narrating change. (cf Campanella?)

This proved a difficult starting point for discussing human nature and architecture in utopias, perhaps because the werewolf theme didn’t seem immediately relevant but also because in going around the table it soon became apparent that many of you didn’t think that utopias were about material change or perfection (at least not before the mid nineteenth century). As a medievalist materialist (don’t forget I started out as an archaeologist!) I was probably over keen to insist on the materialism of the middle ages. I do think that Thomas More’s insistence on elaborating at length and in great detail the domestic economic arrangements necessary for the constraint of Pride are a very distinctive part of Utopia and suggest a profound engagement in the material world and its problems which was probably born out of his experience of the city of London, as much as the monastic cloister. It may not have been his intention, but it is not surprising that so many later authors such as Morris picked up on this as a form of earthly socialism, or like Kendrick want to place all the renaissance utopians in the context of the ‘rise of capitalist modes of production’. The instrumental value he places on things such as physical labour, agriculture, the consumption of a good diet (including appropriate food for the sick) seems very high. It is difficult to imagine his utopian vision working (either as a paradox or a blueprint) without his discussion of communism and the nature of true nobility (or the importance of work).

Sam made a very good and eloquent point about the difference between Plato’s regard for the earthly city as a place for spiritual enlightenment and a post-Augustinian association of the kingdom of earth with sin and its punishment. As did Becca and Emilie in their very well-developed points about the tendency to see materialism as dystopian rather than utopian. It is an odd thing that a certain kind of Christianity rejects worldly pleasure and yet the historical church has to find a way of living in and of the world. Much debate follows about how to make the world tolerable so that churchmen and others become accustomed to debating thorny topics such as sex, war and worldly wealth and legislating extensively on them. As CWB shows there were also other traditions of worldliness which get woven into that thinking too. You could even say that she is arguing this about Dante in particular. So rather ironically, perhaps, a theology which seems to reject the body, the world and its wealth produces a culture which is constantly thinking about those same things. This is not the same thing as blaming More specifically for modern consumer culture. I am a great believer in accident, irony and the history of unintended consequences. And I have been struck over and over again this term, by the unintended (?) material success of utopian experiments (such as the Oneida silverware company or the counter-culture to cyber-culture arguments of Turner et al).

So we went on from the human body, its nourishment and labour to utopian architectural experiments. How far were they designed, like laws, to regulate, contain and discipline human nature (as Stephen explained), how far (like Dante’s paradise) to allow the human body to complete its nature. In the former camp you could perhaps put those entrenched utopias with complicated communal systems of property (like More’s again, but also Winstanley’s perhaps). In the garden cities movement you seem to have both things: space, fresh air, good sanitation and trees will help eradicate physical diseases and disabilities (such as rickets) and so build better human bodies, but (or so Fishman argues) the town plan was also designed to impose standards of bodily behaviour (by banning pubs and regulating ball games for example) from the top down. Do most built communities have an architect, very like the authors of utopian texts, ‘imposing’ their view? (But what about the Shakers?).

Some modern architects have self-consciously moved away from a top-down architectual approach, styling themselves humanist – they want to put the individual (or at least the householder) at the centre of domestic and urban design. FLW’s open-plan, kitchen centred homes rejected the unhealthy and ‘hierarchical’ un-American designe of brick row/terrace houses imported from Europe. His usonian house was to be mass-produced in kit form so that customers could design the home they wanted, rather than have a preconceived design imposed upon them. In the Broadacres project – perhaps the ultimate scheme for combining the benefits of urban and rural living - the FLW house, like the garden city, is a factory produced machine for improving human nature by access to light and greenery, but one in which the customer and his automobile is king (and FLW was almost certainly unaware of the irony in that).

In these ways a discussion of architecture can inform a discussion of law (and of the relationship between society and the individual), just as walls and boundaries can be real obstacles not just representations of legal titles.


Among many other good points I liked Phil's comment that utopian themes can become backdrops to many other things (in Nabokov) they don't always have to take centre stage.

I also liked the discussion among various of you about whether the internet was an immaterial or material space. It reminded me both of Erewhon - the society without machines which contains the memory of a heavily machined past and whose pastoralism depends on an industrial other world, and of the symbiotic relationship of Urras and Annarres.

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