Utopia and freedom
Wednesday 20 March @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pmFree
Bateman Lecture Theatre, University of Exeter Building One, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4PU
THIS EVENT IS FREE TO ATTEND BUT PLEASE REGISTER VIA EVENTBRITE.
Living Freedom ‘University Salons’ are for all students (and academics) keen to explore and debate ideas. A short talk is followed by plenty of time for questions and discussion.
Utopia and Freedom
Since the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia at the dawn of modernity, utopian thinking has helped us imagine how society might be radically, wholly different. Transformative historical events such as the English Civil War and the Industrial Revolution often inspired imagined worlds to come.
The issue of freedom in utopias is far from straight-forward. More’s Utopia imagined religious toleration but also slavery as punishment for law breakers. Later utopians anticipated transformations in work, leisure or mobility but also rule by master elites and elimination of weak and feeble folk. By the twentieth century, utopia found itself tarnished by association with totalitarian ideologies. In the time since, dystopias have come to the fore, anticipating environmental emergencies, AI apocalypses or a tyrannical patriarchy.
Oscar Wilde argued that ‘a map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth even glancing at’. ‘Progress’, he declared, ‘is the realisation of utopias’. Today, some disparage the technocratic and technological utopianism of the likes of ‘progressives’ or ‘transhumanists’. Others argue that utopian dreaming is required as a stimulus to any worthwhile practical reforms. In our times of political malaise and disenchantment with the future, could a revival of utopian imagination help us out the doldrums? To what extent are utopias – or dystopias – a useful means to think about and shape the future?
Alastair Donald; convenor of Living Freedom; co-editor, The Lure of the City: from slums to suburbs
Alastair organises the Ideas Matter initiative Living Freedom and is associate director of the Academy of Ideas where he co-convenes the Battle of Ideas Festival. He is author of The Scottish Question, and co-editor of The Lure of the City: from slums to suburbs (2011) and The Future of Community: reports of a death greatly exaggerated (2008). He co-founded mantownhuman which published Manifesto: towards a new humanism in architecture (2008), as featured in Penguin Classics 100 Artists’ Manifestos.
Felice Basbøll project assistant, Ideas Matter
Utopias: news from nowhere can help us here and now, The Guardian, 30 November 2023
Coronavirus lockdown: Dystopian and horror virus book sales spike, from The Handmaid’s Tale to Brave New World, Rhiannon Williams, iNews, 31 March 2020
Free love or genocide? The trouble with Utopias, Tobias Jones, The Guardian, 24 January 2016
Living Freedom, Exeter Speak Easy and Committee for Academic Freedom.
Living Freedom University Salons are supported by the Ian Mactaggart Programme, established to foster a culture of open debate, independent thinking and free expression among young people in the UK, especially students. It is administered by the Free Speech Union.