Lived Utopias

Utopian thinking has gained urgency in the face of global crises. If there ever was an end to history, utopian and dystopian visions animate the present as aspiration, critique, and embodied practice. This working group uses the notion of lived utopias to attend to the ways such visions are anchored in and shape the present. The utopias we investigate “live” through concrete imaginations, arrangements, technologies, embodiments, and everyday practices that seek to enact radically different lives and worlds. Lived utopias provide a prism for making sense of the contemporary. From a variety of empirical angles, we document how utopian projects of more-than-human and human actors anticipate and realize change. We attend to the ways situated actors experiment with and struggle to live utopias, and how they succeed and fail in their attempts – how they implement their aspirations, seed futures, and counteract dystopias and nightmares.

By exploring the negotiated spaces of utopian projects and everyday action, we take up both the visionary and the pragmatic, the imagined and the tangible, in utopias as critiques of the now. We explore how lived utopias disrupt and remake worlds, and how they are themselves remade as they travel across geographies and scales, and come into friction with social movements, policies, markets, and states. We also reflect on the dynamic relation of utopias to dystopias: How do utopias become entangled with dystopias, while themselves provoking anxieties? How may utopian ambitions compartmentalize imaginations of a better future? How do they exclude other, seemingly incompatible, ways of life, or reproduce existing inequalities?

Beginning with the assumption that governance utilizes practices of both care and control, we explore their intersections. Engineering at the level of individuals, societies, landscapes, or the planet nearly always involves both practices: to care for oneself or others often involves monitoring every action, and even coercive reforms are legitimized by a language of care. We use lived utopias as prisms to scrutinize temporalized and anticipatory dimensions of care and control. In so doing, we focus on the overlapping fields of technology, ecologies, work on the self, and social movements.

First, we explore technologies and the lived utopias they embody and engender. Focusing on digitization and artificial intelligence in health, art, or governance, we are interested in promises and practices of knowing and intervening in bodies and minds – and thereby of remaking care, control, and indeed what it is to be human. Here, we attend to the interlinked dystopias of surveillance, data security, marketization, and technocratic governance.

Second, we turn to ecologies and investigate lived utopias in the remaking of landscapes, ecosystems, and forms of life. Focusing on nature conservation and climate change adaptation, we analyse practices of re-ordering eco-social relations amidst planetary injury. How are interventions implemented in messy encounters, how are they lived with, and what futures do arise?

Third, we explore work on the self. Focusing on intimate forms of politics, entrepreneurial selves, mental health, or body building, we are interested in practices of cultivating specific bodies, desires, and minds. We analyse how such self-cultivation is driven by utopian and dystopian imageries.

Fourth, we discuss social movements as sites of lived utopias. Focusing on degrowth movements and climate activists, we are interested in practices of shifting everyday behaviour and opening up desires, knowledge, and practices.

Focusing on these fields, we investigate lived utopias as future-oriented imaginaries and practices in the now which acknowledge – each in their own way – the interdependency of animate and inanimate worlds, and which aim to secure life and work towards better futures.

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