Where is utopia?
Questions of space and time can be useful ways of exploring and understanding utopia.
Some utopias are set outside time - in mythical time, at a time beyond death, before time began, or at a point in the future - unmarked by history. These utopian visions are often pure fantasy and aim to provide escape from everyday reality. Some present a perfect world for comparison with our own, and in doing so highlight the problems of the day.
Those utopias that have been realised have been self-contained model communities, to some degree removed from the mainstream of society. Thus, one might ask:
- Is it meant for this world or another?
- Is it outside time, or set in the past, present or future?
- Is it accessible or inaccessible to all?
What is utopia made of?
Utopian visions often include versions of the social structures and traditions that exist in the everyday world. In other words, many imagined utopian societies use systems of justice, control, economy, law, custom and belief to support a particular vision or set of ideals.
Does this mean that order and hierarchy are unavoidable aspects of human society (or the human imagination)?
We can understand aspects of the real world at a particular point in time by looking at that period's visions for change.
All utopias are designed or imagined in the real world; therefore all utopias can be understood as a reaction to the world, or some aspect of it.
In the simplest terms, utopia is a parallel but perfected world. By comparing the real and ideal worlds against one another we can see what has been added, removed or changed. This can help us understand the ideas behind disagreement, dissent, revolution and reform at that time.
Powerful, sometimes revolutionary, ideas have exploded into the world from the minds of utopian thinkers. At other times utopian thoughts have led to peaceful improvements in our lives.
How can utopian ideas be accommodated within, or imposed upon real world social structures and institutions.