‘Creating Real Utopias in the 21st Century’
A two day festival in partnership between the University of Bristol’s Anticipation Research Group and the Festival of Ideas
Supported by the AHRC Connected Communities Programme & the University of Bristol Brigstow Institute
Saturday 21st May
10.00 – 11.30 - Utopian Cities – learning from the ruins
12.15 – 13.45 - Climate Utopias & Dystopias
14.30 – 16.00 - Making Utopias Workshop
17.00 – 18.30 - Sex robots & Utopian Fantasies
19.30 – 21.00 - Everyday Utopias, Davina Cooper
Sunday 22nd May
11.00-13.30 - Screen Utopias
1. Utopian Cities: Learning from the Ruins
Speakers: Charles Burdett, UoB; Alex Marsh, UoB; Eugene Byrne, Independent Historian
The session considers utopian planning projects from the past. It looks at the notions of time, the future and the conceptions of social architecture that were behind three disparate projects. The session aims to ask how plans of the modern impacted on the imagination and collective practices of different groups and it considers the afterlife of each project. The session begins with Charles Burdett's discussion of the implications of the utopian thinking that lay at the heart of Italian Fascism with its plans to create a vast Mediterranean empire. The talk considers the material and psychological debris of the Fascist utopian project. Alex Marsh will examine the rise of local authority and New Town housing as a response to problems related to urbanisation, the delivery of good quality affordable accommodation, and the creation of sustainable settlements. He will then trace out the story of the decline of local authority housing, and social housing more broadly. Central to this story are political narratives of local authority housing as a failed social experiment. In England we now find ourselves in a situation where the death of social housing, as it has conventionally been understood, is a genuine, if currently rather remote, possibly. Eugene Byrne looks at some of the ideas for post-war Bristol after much of the central part of the city was destroyed in the Blitz. The debate on the shape of the new city took some very idealistic turns, but even the plans drawn up by the sober-suited men at the Council were indeed Utopian. While they could never be realised in full, Byrne argues that the planners were more successful than they’re nowadays given credit for.
2.Climate Utopias and Dystopias
Speakers: Stephan Lewandowsky, UoB; Mike Page, Uni of Hertfordshire; Chris Goodall, Independent Author
Chair: Stephan Lewandowsky, UoB
Climate change may displace upward of 150,000,000 people during the 21st century. The world needs to produce as much food during the next 35 years as has ever been produced during the history of agriculture to date. Floods and droughts will ravage many parts of the world. And human beings are notoriously unable to consider and plan for the future.
So we’re all gonna die. Or will we?
The Paris agreement on climate change has ushered in a new era of willingness to tackle climate change and new technologies and ways of thinking about the future are emerging that may enable us to head for a delightful rather than a dreadful future.
This event will examine the challenges but also the opportunities that await us in an uncertain but manageable future.
3. Making Utopias Workshop
Speakers: Kat Wall, NEON/ Policy Bristol; Patricia Gaya, EFIM; Sado Jirde, BSWN
Who gets to imagine, decide and make our futures? Decision makers, thought leaders and many involved in social change organisations come from a particular part of society – often white, often middle class, often university educated. If we are thinking about making utopia – the best possible future – we will only be able to do this when everyone is involved – when the richness of diversity is expressed in the imaging and creation of a better world. To address the current imbalance of voice and influence in ‘utopia making’ we need to better understand issues of power and privilege. Come along to this workshop to uncover the role power and privilege play in the kinds of future we can create; to explore how we can understand our own power and privilege; and to deepen our awareness of what can be done to re-centre social change work going forward. This workshop will appeal to people involved in social change who feel they have the power to shape the future and to those who feel that, at present, they do not.
4. Sex Robots and Utopian Fantasies
Speakers: Genevieve Lively, UoB; Kate Devlin, University of Goldsmiths
Chair: Genevieve Lively, UoB
Advances in computing, robotics, and A.I systems (as well as popular science fiction narratives) confidently predict that sex robots will play an import role in our future lives. The prospect is welcomed by many for the potential such robots promise in helping tackle some of the problems associated with loneliness and bereavement, in reducing some of the harms associated with sex work, and in offering therapeutic as well as recreational benefits. But others see sex robots very differently. This discussion and debate will consider both sides of the issue - in particular, inviting participants to take the long view and consider what we might learn from the history of sex robots. This is a remarkable history which stretches back millennia and anticipates both our utopian fantasies and dystopian fears about human interactions with these machines.
5. Everyday Utopias
Speakers: Davina Cooper
Chair: Keri Facer, UoB
What are everyday utopias; can imaginative forms of improvisation help to establish them; and can play help us to re-imagine what markets and states could be like? This session will explore two sites of play: the micro-site of Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, and those counter-institutions that perform everyday governance relations differently. It examines how Speakers’ Corner, as a place where one-timers and regulars argue, debate and laugh together, re-enacts the relationship between markets and play. At Speakers’ Corner, markets are satirised, relations of exchange are re-imagined, offerings are tasted, diverse speech acts and encounters are sampled, and risky transactions enjoyed. But if Speakers’ Corner provides some hints of a different way of approaching markets, can play help us to reimagine states? I am interested here in simulatory, often serious, non-competitive forms of play that don’t mimic the state as it is, but indicate ways of imagining what states could be. Prefiguring statecraft may seem an odd idea given the anti-state assumptions and ethos pervading much utopian and left-wing scholarship and activism. Without at all denying or minimising the oppressive, coercive practices of states both now and in the past, this session will explore whether there is value in imagining and enacting other kinds of statecraft – including at micro-level - that perform political governance relations in more progressive ways. Drawing on a series of different examples, including establishment of the People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove, the session will address the challenge of forging counter-states through play.
6. Screen Utopias
Speakers: Tim Boon (Head of Research and Public History at the Science Museum), Adam O'Brien (Teaching Fellow, University of Bristol), Sefryn Penrose (Postdoctoral Researcher, University College London), Angela Piccini (Reader in Screen Media, University of Bristol), Sarah Street (Professor of Film, University of Bristol)
Chair: Angela Piccini, UoB
What is it about the idea of things to come that energises and terrifies in equal measure? How do we come to imagine what it is that's not yet here? And is what is to come next year, one hundred years from now or tomorrow? Taking its inspiration from H G Wells's 1933 story, The Shape of Things to Come, which, in 1936 was adapted for the screen by Alexander Korda, this session explores 'social and political forces and possibilities' (H. G. Wells, Things to Come – A Film Story, London: Cresset, 1935). While on-screen utopias are most readily seen through science fiction, our panel will discuss a wide range of film and television genres, including musicals, sports films, documentaries, prison dramas and political satire in addition to sci-fi. Academic Richard Dyer has argued that all screen entertainment forms are utopian. How might different genres envision yet-to-come communities, ways of being and new politics? Join the conversation about the different ways in which 'things to come' have been explored on the silver screen. Followed by a special screening of Things to Come (Alexander Korda, 1936).