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Politics Forum: Multiple views of utopians

By Annabel Lau


According to Michael Robertson, and English professor at the College, “utopia” can be found in the most unexpected places. In his politics forum on Thursday, Feb. 14 he addressed the question of “Whatever Happened to Utopia?”

Michael Robertson speaks with students about different types of utopia. (Francesca Grimblat)

Robertson’s work in progress, a book titled “The Last Utopians,” tells the biographies of four socialist utopian thinkers from 1880-1915: Edward Bellamy, William Morris, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Edward Carpenter.

Robertson, however, did not wish to limit his research to that period. Although the 20th Century was regarded as the Century of Dystopia, and modern society is showing increasingly dystopic qualities, utopias are alive and well in the present day.

In order to address utopianism in the 21st Century, Robertson has developed two analytic categories: “lived utopianism” and “partial utopianism.”

“Theorizing social change involves living out some portion of a transformed future in the here and now,” Robertson said, regarding his definition of lived utopianism. He explained that partial utopianism involves supporting an aspect of utopianism, which can then have a “ripple effect on the larger society.”

Robertson cited the Occupy Wall Street Movement as an example of partial utopianism, with goals “to enact, in the moment, transformed utopian practices.” He also told of his experience partaking in the movement in Oct. 2011, where he encountered filmmaker, Michael Moore. When Robertson told Moore that he was writing about utopia, Moore responded, “Congratulations. You’ve arrived.”

Robertson also claimed that there is undoubtedly a utopian dimension to education; in creating a better person through education, a more perfect society follows.

“(Robertson) opens my eyes up to the possibility of a utopia existing in things we could least expect, maybe even at TCNJ,” said sophomore international studies major Lauren Lalicon.

Robertson also found utopianism to exist through radical homosexuality movements. Robertson has visited two LGBT utopian communities: the Edward Carpenter Community and the Radical Faeries, societies dedicated to maintaining a non hierarchical, noncompetitive and sexually liberated environment.

The final area of partial utopianism that Robertson discussed was the “Slow Food” movement, created in opposition to fast food and industrialized food production. The movement focuses on the proliferation of organic farming, local farmer’s markets and other sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives.

Despite the comprehensiveness of Robertson’s talk, international studies major Kyle Brands found it to be bit one-sided.

“He focused a lot on the socialist idealisms of utopia. What I really hope he does (in his finished book) is focus on … the libertarian model of a utopia. I fear that he’s going to neglect an entire side of what a utopia is.”

Robertson, however, had stated earlier that he was looking forward to writing a long afterward for his book and was interested in an active dialogue with the audience.

“Enough about me. I’m very interested in hearing your ideas about whatever happened to utopia,” Robertson said.



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