Understanding Utopia

Alice Konig
Monday 5 February 2024

In this presentation, Visualising Peace student Jadzia Allright discusses her research into ideas of utopia – as a way of exploring habits of visualising/building future peace. She particularly explores designs for the construction of physical utopias. This connects to some items in our Museum Peace, on the connections between peacemaking and placemaking and to some other library entries and learning journeys, such as those by Eleni Spilliotes and Margaux de Seze. You can read more about our research into peace and place on our project pages. Below the video, you can find a summary of the publications he discusses. These are also available in our Visualising Peace Library.

Vogel, B. et al. ‘Reading Socio-Political and Spatial Dynamics through Graffiti in Conflict-Affect Societies’. Third World Quarterly 41, no. 12 (2020): 1248-68

This article discusses the role of graffiti in conflict-affected areas, and how graffiti can be a lens to view peacebuilding efforts. Through four core aspects – spatial, temporal, political economic, and representative dimensions – the authors break down the role of graffiti in a society and how it can be seen as a way to understand what the citizens are thinking and feeling with regard to their current political climate. The article draws on material collected by different authors in various locations, such as Cyprus, Colombia, Iraq, Northern Ireland, and Timor-Leste. They make sure to highlight that the tradition of graffiti needs to be understood through the local context.

Graffiti can be seen as a source of local knowledge, which is created by anybody and seen by everybody, making it incredibly influential. As it is an often-illegal act, it places additional importance on messages presented. The authors emphasised the role of graffiti by showing an image of graffiti on a UN buffer zone wall in Nicosia stating ‘Your wall cannot divide us’. Graffiti clearly highlights and shows the current thoughts of those in the immediate area. Furthermore, it allows marginalised and minority voices to be heard, as shown through another image underlining LGBTIQ communities, in Cyprus, represented through community.With regards to peacebuilding, the article makes sure to highlight how graffiti has much to offer in the study of both peace and conflict, as it directly spotlights the residents. Conflict-based graffiti can reflect past dynamics and conflicts, whereas peace-based graffiti shows potential for change to be made. I specifically recommend ‘Graffiti in Tehran’ as another library entry to explore.

Wells, H. G. ‘Failure in a Modern Utopia’. In A Modern Utopia, 135-174, 1905

This chapter in H.G. Wells’ 1905 book A Modern Utopia discusses the possible failures in a modern Utopia. The book walks a very thin line between fictional and non-fictional, with a premise of two travellers making their way across the Alps, whilst realistically and eloquently discussing what the makings of a Utopian society would look like. This could fall under the term ‘useful fiction’, whereby the book is narratively exploring what a future could look like under a fictional lens.

 Wells lays out his understanding of ‘A Modern Utopia’, where it does not eliminate all competition, but instead places humanity on equal levels. He says that most Utopian writers pretend that humanity is purely happy under a Utopia, however, the real world is made up of survival or failure. A Utopia should eliminate the extremities of success and failure, but they should still exist in some regard. A failure would not result in a lack of housing, no poor food, shabby clothing, or debt, but instead be a personal or moral failure, highlighting a human’s innate need for competitiveness. Furthermore, while to some the ideal world would be without work at all, Wells believes that work is essential to a functioning society. Idleness to a human eventually becomes dull, and there would be disarray without humanity to carry out menial tasks. The caveat is that work should be engaging, and everyone should have the opportunity to work how they want. This semi-fictional piece outlines how, even in a Utopia, it is important to consider a functioning, realistic society. Imagining an unrealistic society is detrimental to peace studies, as it provides impractical solutions.

Ganjavie, A. ‘Role of Utopia for Design of Future Cities: Utopia in Urban Planning Literature’. Studies in Literature and Language 5, no. 3 (2012): 10-19 

Ganjavie argues against a Utopian model being applied to cities yet states that there is still a place for utopianism in urban planning. This article discerns between a singular utopia and many utopias, as utopia and the concept of utopia are constantly evolving. Classical utopian ideals would desire wealth, good education, and health for all, whereas a current utopian society would consider things such as sustainable development, globalisation, and gender equality as well. The claims of classical utopias have lost their importance. Diversity, pluralism, and tolerance must play a larger role in Utopia. The article states that there are two functions for utopian thinking in urban planning. One, to use utopian models as a laboratory to think about the future, to innovate and improve. The second is to present catastrophic scenarios and dystopian futures in order to educate citizens. The Utopian model is too static and fixed for an ever-changing world. Additionally, it generalises the political, economic, and social issues of the area it has been used on, without outside considerations. Therefore, using a utopian lens or utopian thinking allows for nuance and applied situations. Ganjavie argues against a Utopian model yet believes that the mindset of utopia should not be lost and should still be applied to cities.

Other library entries, such as ‘The Challenge of Conflict-Affected Cities: Building Peace Through Architecture and Urban Design’ and ‘Building for Hope: Towards an Architecture of Belonging’, continue these ideas of a utopian lens through urban planning.  

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