Sunday, 28 February 2010

'Fordlandia' - Henry Ford’s failed utopia in the Amazon.

In 1927 Henry Ford, founder and owner of Ford motor company, bought a huge tract of land in Brazil the size of Northern Ireland. He did so in part to emulate his friend, the tyre-magnate Harvey Firestone, who was building a plantation in Liberia, Ford planned to grow rubber for his cars. ‘Fordlandia’ though soon expanded into a huge project to export small-town America to the Amazon. Ford spent some $20 million on bungalows, ice-cream parlours, bandstands, gardening clubs, and a golf course, all in an endeavour to create an American vision of utopia. However, his plans soon came unstuck. Though well-meaning, Ford’s social engineering was marked by incompetence. A succession of managers proved utterly useless at creating his utopia. The first arrivals, for instance, cleared the forests with huge gasoline fires, thus poisoning the ground for cultivation. In the end, the Ford Motor Company sold the derelict site for $244,200, in return for their investment of more than $20 million.
This new book charts the rise and fall of Henry Ford’s ‘jungle city’. It is an interesting example of early twentieth-century U.S. utopianism transported to South America.
Read more!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Mind, Body and Identity: three slippery categories

1. Individuality/personality – what makes me uniquely me?

2. Identity position – group affiliation – sex, race, social status. Biological or social constructions?

Up to now utopias have seemed often to focus on this second type of identity - through their eagerness to identify, define, classify and even build citizens. But for a different way of thinking about utopias as machines for reimagining our identity see, for example, Jameson on 'Morus: the Generic Window', or Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-fashioning for discussion of the ways in which More creates Utopia to go beyond humanist dialectic to expose and explore his own conscience and consciousness. Or think about Gulliver on his travels?

3. Integrity – spatiotemporal continuity. I am the same person that I was a few moments ago. The body is our identity, it gives shape to (informs) the story of how we change.

The historian Caroline Walker Bynum explores these three questions of identity in the last of four essays which is also widely available on the internet (Shape and Story). How far can humans change and remain human? She explores the continuity between mind and body from Ovid through the middle ages to Angela Carter......“monsters and hybrids … stuck together from our own sense of the incompatibility of aspiration and situation, cultures and genes, mind and body … help us to imagine a world in which we really change and yet really remain the same thing.”

A useful link, perhaps from building utopia, to dreaming it.

From ‘Shape and Story’

Image= Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse, a Pre-Raphaelite Painter Read more!

Friday, 26 February 2010

Garden Cities powerpoint, and Questions

Powerpoint slide show for Garden Cities, FLW and Corbusier can be downloaded from here:

.. from the human body to the perfect city to the perfect other world ..

In the utopias we have studied …

How do the perfect body and the perfect architecture shape the perfect individual, the perfect citizen and the perfect society?
Which utopias are focused on physical perfection and why?
Are imagined systems of property designed for material/bodily perfection rather than spiritual enrichment?
Are architectural forms EITHER an extension to the human body, OR a necessary constraint (a physical expression of law) given the impossible fluidity of the human? Read more!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Citizen Ethics

A new pamphlet has just been produced, elaborating on the need for a renewed look at contemporary ethics. It almost slipped my mind that this fits nicely into the 'digital utopia' strand of this course.

By way of introduction, my name is Olly, and I took this module two years ago when I was in the final year of my history degree at York. It sparked an interest in the philosophy of morality for me, which I still find fascinating two years on. It also introduced me to William Morris, who I remain in awe of. The Utopias module was one of the most academically rewarding things I have ever been lucky enough to be involved with. I'm now down at Homerton College in Cambridge, training to be a primary school teacher (which ain't so bad either).

Introductions aside, a pamphlet has just been released via the Citizen Ethics Network, which features a collection of very brief essays on contemporary ethics. It has been compiled by plenty of renowned current thinkers, and made freely available. Due to the Internet, it is obviously accessible from almost anywhere, so that anybody can quickly learn about the notion of citizen ethics and what makes a just society.

I think that there are few better examples of the explicit link between the Internet and how it can be used to distribute information, and to educate people, in the hope of creating a better (perhaps one day perfect) society, than this website.

Scattered throughout the pamphlet are quotes that one might use to comparatively analyse the utopian writing we have read which spans millennia, such as
"How can we achieve a just society? Much of our political debate assumes that the answer to this question is simply to maximise happiness or to respect each individual's freedom of choice. But happiness and choice are not enough."
Elements of this debate are to be found in most of the texts.

If you're inclined towards the philosophical side of utopian thought and ethics, this is well worth a look.

Read more!

Homo Interneticus

Part Three of The Virtual Revolution (BBC2) focussed on facebook and other social media - asking if the internet can change human nature.

Among much else it was claimed that nobody can have more than 150 meaningful friends, but that you actually interact fully with only 5 or 6. (This inevitably reminded me of all the discussion of numbers in our texts this week - and the ideal size of the utopian community (Fourier)). Apparently in the US you can even get a free burger and fries for every 10 facebook friends you cut. So you'd better all get cutting ... Read more!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Unfinished conversation...

William Morris's Kelmscott edition of Utopia by Thomas More.

Didn't quite finish the conversation in the last seminar... We discussed Marx and Engels' anti-utopianism, but also the possibly utopian elements in their own work. How did Morris pick up on this in Nowhere?

Which of their ideas did he share or not share - did he share their 'utopian' goals, or their scientific explanation of the processes of historical change and revolution?

His 'medievalism' may well be influenced by their account of the bourgeois revolution which now needed to be undone, though does Nowhere match the perfect post-revolutionary society of their imagination?

Then there is also the question of the rhetorical style he chooses. Nowhere has often been described as the best account of Marxism in an English novel. But if M&E rejected utopian socialism because of its reliance on dreams and visionaries, its desire to transform the whole of humanity, and its elements of fantasy, why does Morris choose to make precisely all those elements (the dream, the visionary narrator, the time travel, the undoing of history and dissolving of landscape) so central in his account of Nowhere? Read more!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Of Time and the City: (Utopian?) Cities as Traffic Machines

The University of York, Department of Sociology

Wednesday 24 February at 4.15pm in W/222

Daryl Martin, Department of Sociology, University of York

'Of time and the city': the M62 and the new landscapes of Northern England

This paper discusses the recent suggestion, by the architect

Will Alsop, that the future prosperity of Northern English cities should be achieved through merging into one discrete urban entity, facilitated by the M62 motorway. The paper will locate Alsop's plan within the concerns of the mobilities strand of social science research, as well as architectural theories of urbanism and contemporaneous governmental policy. The paper continues to contrast Alsop's use of the M62 with the use of the road network in the films of Patrick Keiller, which also present the current English economy as premised on the motorway and its mobile spaces.

Aesthetically, the landscapes presented by Alsop and Keiller appear to be dissimilar, with Alsop proposing a flamboyant speculation on the future regional landscape and Keiller offering a quotidian description that is ambivalent about the narratives of prosperity and decline associated with these cities. Yet both Alsop and Keiller share an understanding of the evolving nature of provincial landscapes wrought by automobility and, in
their different ways, offer imaginative and critical responses to these changes in the present-day experience of place. The paper suggests that Alsop's and Keiller's work speak to a transformation of everyday life in the
West, both in spatial terms and in the individual experience of time, and the resultant shift in the perception, parameters and definition of the extant city. Read more!

Saturday, 13 February 2010


Augustine's insistence on the city as a metaphor which embraces all peoples and ends in the certainty of perfection opens up a greater space for a mystical perception of universal truth (or the greater good offered in the heavenly city). This mystical truth can be accessed by anybody via revelation/dream, mystery and miracle (for example the miracles of the saints: exemplary individuals). The dream in turn allows the development of a very different rhetorical form from the dialectic of Plato - through what is sometimes described as bricolage (Jameson and Ingham).

Emilie gave a very good paper on the criticism of dream narratives, especially in the work of Chaucer. We saw how both he and Langland use the dream as a form for criticising specific corruption in their own contemporary London/World and proposing (perhaps?) a utopian 'new' alternative solution to contemporary problems.

Much of More's Utopia, especially in Book Two, explicitly rejects mystical solutions, or fantasies of a paradisical nature (Utopians, work, wear clothes and study, and do not yet have revelation or the sacraments). And yet the whole structure of the work adopts several aspects of the dream narrative form - the journey to the ends of the earth and beyond, the narrator thus able to 'look' down/in from outside on the island of Britain/Utopia, the idea of the book as a game and as a vehicle for promoting dreaming/reflection/learning, the ambiguous conclusion (that's if you think it has an ambiguous conclusion).

Of course we talked about much more than this ...including Morris ... but I will leave a space .., for my fun and your thoughts ... Read more!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Perfect Cities: part 2

This week we also began, importantly, to dicuss the content of particular Utopias, especially Plato's.

Briefly our reading led us to consider various elements in his perfect city:

  • the inclusion of women as participating citizens (an unusual feature of his work)
  • communism - rooted in older ideas about communism in the possession of wives and daughters - a guard against nepotism and tribalism - both associated with corruption and civil strife. Secondarily extended to communism in property. Only pertains to the guardians.
  • a clear social structure - 3 classes of citizens and slaves (the latter are barely discussed). The tripartite class system is a feature of older ideas (may have come from his contact with Pythagoreans, a philosophical community whose ideas were influenced by Greek 'adventures' into Persia/Asia. The class system is strikingly similar to the Brahmin tradition in hinduism, for example). But several aspects of Plato's social thinking also seem to reflect the city, Athens, in which he lived.
  • social system provides for military security and economic prosperity (idea: economics is the basis of politics) allowing a guardian class of philosophers to be supported (not possible in more simple, less urban, societies).
  • Philosophy (as in part 1 of this post) is the chief purpose of the perfect city. Therefore it is in the interests of individuals to live in this society.
So how does Plato provide for the best philosophers to be the guardians of this state? These is perhaps the most crucial question for him. He answers it mainly by discussing eugenics (selecting the best mate - but also making sex functionally about good procreation and suggesting sexual continence to that end), and education at some length. This discussion is particularly focussed on the guardians although he does allow for social mobility (based on philosophical ability) between classes (a radical element in his thought). For the guardians (and them alone) he emphasises education from birth away from family in order to focus their loyalty on the city.
It is interesting that philosophical perfection is linked to physical perfection (the influence of Sparta?) - and that this perfection is both societal and individual. Later utopians are going to develop this idea in thinking about the physical perfection of the city in great detail - leading some scholars to suggest that all proper utopias are architopias.
Augustine is not really interested in social planning and is indeed insistant that the heavenly city will not only triumph but can include 'citizens' from any earthly community (his emphatically also includes the outsider, the traveller, the pilgrim, the person not bound by material states and cities - together with citizens). All is dependent on the will of God, on love. And I am not going to try to summarise his doctrines of predestination, free will and grace (they are easily looked up). He does say that there are 'goods' on earth which are gifts of God: peace is one (and war is justifiable to restore or bring peace). Marriage can be another - the perfect state is virginal - but a monogamous marriage (reflecting Christ's loving 'marriage' to the church) can allow sex to be used for procreation. Both of these Augustinian doctrines become very influential in the development of canon law (the church's rules for society). Unlike Augustine the church has to grapple with society, much like Plato having written the Republic later has to grapple with the idea that law may be the only method of turning his principles into practical realities. Law is the educator of the citizen?
So what happens in later Christian communities seeking perfection? Are Benedictine monks in some sense platonic 'guardians'? If so why do Franciscans seek to reform that tradition and evangelise 'non-guardians'. Where to locate More's experience of Christianity in this tradition?
To date utopian scholars have perhaps focussed more on these regular (monastic) Christian precursors to More's Utopia than secular experimentation in the perfection of cities between Rome and the Renaissance. This last area is my particular interest - hence the inclusion of Bruni as a more obvious and famous example of pre-Morean city 'utopianism' (if I am correct to use that term). I have published an article on More and medieval London (which is buried somewhere in your bibliographies). But for now I think it is possibly best to stick to the more canonical utopias included in the Reader - suffice to say that the idea of civic architopias did not die in the middle ages only to be revived in the renaissance - far from it!!

So that is the end of the second post from 2008. The next challenge is to incorporate Morris into this - Nowhere has moved beyond dialectic (beyond conflict, beyond History) - and in common with other socialist writers of the mid-nineteenth century - Morris is thus criticising and rejecting aspects of the Platonic tradition by emphatically reducing the role of Philosophy as a source of enlightenment (the discussion of books, education, argument etc). Read more!

The Perfect City: part 1

I wrote the following notes after a seminar two years ago - but they still seem good today. They come in two posts. Here is the first one.

Plato believed in the immortality of the soul, and that every entity in the universe (even the stars in the heavens) had souls. 800 years later Augustine’s early fifth century theology shows clear influence of neo-platonic ideas in his foundational Christian text: The City of God. The sixth century rule of St Benedict was an attempt, in part, to put Augustinian theology into practice in the organisation of a community. Later communities such as the Franciscans and also those who wrote about the good government of secular communities (such as cities) continued to wrestle with the issue of how to build the perfect society within this broad and evolving intellectual framework.

This week’s reading therefore did two different kinds of work. It provided materials for thinking about the relationship between ‘utopianism’ and pragmatism; that is about the use ethical thinkers made of their historical experiences, before Thomas More and within intellectual traditions that we know influenced More’s Utopia. Second it introduced the idea that society can be understood as having a mystical existence and purpose, as well as a material existence and purpose. Whereas last week we emphasised the plausibility and verisimilitude of the utopian tradition, and talked about the transformation of societies in pragmatic (mainly economic and political) terms ‘within the limits of the possible’, this week’s reading added in the idea that some canonical utopian thinkers (such as Plato) understood their social thought as having a mystical dimension.

Why and how Plato thought the way he did is well covered in the secondary reading. He was able to draw on and combine ideas from a diverse philosophical tradition that was already several centuries old by the time he was at work, and during his lifetime he lived through a period of dramatic political events. Although he established an Academy in Athens he was also invited to put his philosophy into practice in more than one city state.

The story of the prisoners in the cave is at the heart of Plato’s philosophy: the idea that the particular things that we observe with our senses are only mere shadows of a greater truth encompassing the nature of our existence. The Socratic method of seeking knowledge through seemingly endless dialogue was a distinctive philosophical method for elucidating this greater truth. The fact that Plato writes the Republic in the form of a dialogue is a clear indication of his philosophical purpose and understanding. Thomas More uses a similar method in Utopia, and we might look out for ways in which other authors of works in the utopian canon choose to use this technique, or not, in their own writing.

It is interesting that Plato is included in the Reader but Augustine is not, when both were clearly important influences on More. This is possibly because Claeys and Sargent are privileging the modern utopian tradition that focused on 'bounded utopias' in the material world, rather than the spiritual utopianism of either ancient times or the present day. They do not, for example, include anything from Bloch's, The Spirit of Utopia which appears to be so influential among advocates of utopianism now.

Do they include Plato for his concrete ideas about society and its organisation, and perhaps exclude Augustine because he is first and foremost a theologian? Indeed this is a key difference between Plato and Augustine - for Plato the perfect city is a material place which is both the objective of his philosophy and provides the economic reality through which the good life can be sustained. Augustine uses the idea of the two cities (of the world and of heaven) as a metaphor - and the chief good is associated with the mystical or heavenly city which exists outside time and space.

A second key difference is that for Plato it is not clear that the perfect city will ever be achieved. Later work, such as the Laws, may suggest a disillusionment (or at least an adjustment) as Plato experiences the difficulties of putting his ideas into practice. For Augustine the eventual triumph of the city of heaven is a certainty. Perfection is unavoidable. This injection of the inevitability of perfection - sometimes associated with messianic millenarianism - is one of the distinctive contributions of the judeo/christian faiths to utopian thought.

A work in progress … to be continued …in another post. Read more!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Books we've read/Films we've seen

Ok, this was an idea I had after the first couple of seminars, but completely forgot to post it, (due to the joys of dissertation draft deadlines).
Anyway, I just thought we could perhaps use the blog as a way of kind of pooling our knowledge of wider reading that may not be on the reading list?
For example, we could all share with each other any books we've read, films we've seen ect that could be compared with others in the sense of utopian ideals? - like what we did in the first seminar, in pairs?
I was thinking this could be a good idea, as it could give others ideas of what could be useful to throw into a comparative study??
So yeh, post away any ideas!!

A couple of things I've read/seen that could be thrown into comparisons are, (im possibly in danger of being really flippant with these comparisons though - so please comment if I'm talking complete rubbish):

The Beach - idea of a perfect society existing although only capable through exclusion of outsiders, and when that 'barrier' of exclusion is breached, it turns into a 'dystopia'?

Kazuo Ishiguro, 'Never Let Me Go' - although I'm only a bit of the way through it, (up to page something like 50/60), I've started to see links to the idea of an emphasis on the 'Arts and Craft' utopia and also the idea that control seemingly creates a utopia, but is in fact a dystopia.?

Life On Mars, (TV series) - Sam Tyler 'travels back in time', and discovers a completely different way of policing than his own, but starts to believe it is in fact better? - i dont really want to say too much and spoil the ending for those of you who haven't seen it, but those of you who have might be able to see what I'm getting at - tell me if I'm looking too much into it haha!

These are just a couple of random ideas I've had and wanted to find out what others thought? Read more!

Virtual Revolution episode 2!!!

Hey guys,
if anyone watched the BBC 2 show 'Virtual Revolution' last week, (which Sarah posted on the blog), then you probably know the links to utopianism it showed, (for example, the idea of a 'Grand Levelling' being created by the World Wide Web).
Some of the things the episode talks about, for example 'The Well' and the 'Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace' are on our reading lists which are quite interesting.
I dont think this episode is on iPlayer anymore, but I think its still availiable on the site Sarah posted the link for!

The second episode is on BBC iPlayer now, (i havent watched it yet), but its title is 'Virtual Revolution: Enemy of the State?', and from the synopsis, I'm guessing its going to about how the Web has been turned into a kind of 'dystopia' because of the openess to censorship??

Anyway, just thought I'd post it. I tried posting the link to the site, but it didnt work - bad times!! (I think I my have managed to post it in the title of this post now though.......i'm rubbish with technology! Read more!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Abstract Thoughts? The Body takes them Literally.

Why do people 'travel' into the future? And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Themes so far: comparative histories of utopia.

OK - here is a brief summary of some of the formal ways of thinking comparatively about the history of ideas that we have encountered so far. I know this is a bit dry - more on Utopias later - meanwhile go off and watch the BBC on Virtual utopias (see below) or read the NYT on mind/body and place/time (see above)- which are both more fun.

Thinking Comparatively (History of Ideas)
In addition to diachronic, synchronic and anachronistic - in relation to More we came across the following differnet ways of trying to think about the ideas in utopia historically.

Skinner and the Cambridge school: linguistic synchronic contextualism (see Goldie on this) - can only analyse key terms in relation to contemporary debates and usages demonstrably known to the author

Davis et al: historical synchronic contextualism - explanation through location in contemporary events influencing the author as perceived by the historian looking backwards.

Surtz et al - the longue duree, diachronic influence of Plato et al, and above all the historian perceives influences based on apparent similarities.

Kenyon - builds on Cambridge school's approach but also critical of it for underestimating the ability of the author to make an original, new contribution

Goldie - goes even further: we should not divorce an author's philosophy (however inventive) from the same author's moral seriousness (intention and capacity to act as well as think ethically). ie that pre-modern utopias were written within a framework of moral intentions for their application in the world, that agnosticism and relativism comes later (after Bentham and Kant).

Morris (and many others) looking backward sees in More a socialist 'before his time'. wirites NfN partly in direct response to that anachronistic reading?

Coming soon .... Jameson and the generic window.

 And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Margins of Desire: the suburban in fiction and culture 1880-1925

Lynne Hapgood, Margins of Desire: The Suburbs in Fiction and Culture 1880-1925
(Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2005).

C1 The utopian suburb: Jerome K. Jerome, William Morris and the logical suburb, pp. 18-39

See review here: Here is the Review. And here is the rest of it. Read more!

William Morris: Order and Anarchy

The Plutocratic Society which we Socialists are attacking, though an anarchy, is nevertheless an organised anarchy; an anarchy, too, which is sustained even by the efforts towards reform of those who are contented with it; as for instance the preachment of high morality and disinterested philanthropy among the well-to-do classes; the struggle of the Trades' Unions to keep up the wages of skilled artizans, while they admit the right of the masters to the sweating of labour, and are therefore still the slaves of the competitive market; the efforts of radical politicians to extend the franchise and improve the system of representation (?) while they are resolute to hand over the general welfare of the people to the tender mercies of laissez-faire: all the so-called progress, in short, which is so be-hymned in the plutocratic press of to-day, and the result of which will be but a bitter disappointment to the honest among the middle-classes themselves, since it means nothing but a widening of the basis of tyranny: all this is just the instinctive effort of the organisation of commercial war; an insurance for the system of plutocracy, which perpetually strives to make good the prophecy, "The poor ye have always with you.".

What kind of organisation, then, have we Socialists to oppose to this terrible, this apparently inexpugnable organisation, which is not only sustained by the greatest mass of material riches which the world has ever seen, but even makes use for its evil and destructive purposes of men's very virtues, of their aspirations towards freedom and social welfare?

Surely it is useless to meet it with the dignified measured efforts for redress which would befit free citizens living together with some approach to equality; for men living under such conditions, the electoral arrangements which they themselves had agreed to might suffice for the expression of their opinions: how far we are from such a condition may be seen by the fact that in no constituency in England, Wales, or Scotland, has a working man candidate any chance of being returned except by the express leave and license, nay the strenuous efforts, of his capitalist masters, and he must be a sanguine man who thinks that universal suffrage would alter this while general opinion on the relations of capital and labour remains unchanged.

No, it is no use shutting our eyes to facts; we must remember that, in spite of fine words, in spite of the smoothness and varnish of modern life, and all the conveniences so easily obtained by the successful competitors in our hideous system of internecine war, we are not free citizens, but slaves.

Not as free citizens, then, can we organise ourselves; not as men prepared to ally ourselves from time to time with this or that body of politicians as they seem to agree more or less with our views and aims: we can have no allies among the governing classes; we can only have masters; let them bear the responsibility for their acts; do not let us be so tame as to shift any of it on to our shoulders.

Slaves are a necessity to the capitalist organisation. Let the governing committee of capitalists feel that they are ruling discontented slaves, who will make no sign, except as slaves, either of approval or disapproval of any of their acts. Meantime let us set about the great work of organising and educating discontent, teaching the root doctrines of Socialism to every one we can reach, enrolling in the Socialist body every one who genuinely accepts those doctrines; making our voices heard as Socialists on every opportunity, but holding ourselves aloof from every movement which has not the furtherance of Socialism as its direct aim.

Such an organisation would avoid that waste of power on side issues which is the curse of popular movements in England; every member of it would feel that sense of brotherhood and support, that exaltation of soul which the holding of great principles in common with a mass of intelligent men, and their championship among people hostile and indifferent always gives to the initiated, changing doubt and shrinking into certainty and fearlessness.

It is true that this method is that of patience, that it would be pleasanter, and would seem easier to snatch a temporary victory every now and then by allying ourselves with those men to whom our hopes come in the form of fears. But we all know what such victories mean; how they do but breed a fresh set of enemies to revolution, by satisfying the outskirts of discontent on the one hand, and on the other by driving the over-sanguine into the cynicism caused by failure with the face of victory.

Surely it is no wonder if patience is required from those who further a cause whole final end is the happiness of the human race.


Justice, 9th February 1884, p. 2.
Read more!