W. E. B. Du Bois Lectures: Philipp Kneis
Typically, the term „utopian“ has a positive connotation. Yet when we consider Thomas More’s inaugural text of the modern version of the utopian genre, we can easily be misled by
Typically, the term „utopian“ has a positive connotation. Yet when we consider Thomas More’s inaugural text of the modern version of the utopian genre, we can easily be misled by the narrative stance of the text which describes Utopian society as an improvement, despite all the cautioning sarcasm. Yet More clearly depicts a society that thinks of itself as so advanced and beneficial that it “naturally” believes in its own superiority, and in its assumedly righteous mission to spread its empire over the native cultures around it. Utopia is a mandate for colonialism, heteronormativity and white supremacy, and the ideal state envisioned by More sees its colonialism justified as a “civilizing mission.” This is typical for utopian conceptions, and illustrates one of the founding principles of the United States as well, specifically in the combination of loftily emancipatory political rhetoric and colonialist practice. Yet other American countries have maintained their utopian promises as well, be they Canada – positioning itself as the “better America” –, Mexico – in its mission to negotiate precolonial, Spanish, and postcolonial legacies –, Cuba – as one of the last Communist countries –, or the South American countries aiming to fulfill the Bolivarian revolution, or their version of the “American Dream.” This still, to this day, includes demands for converting indigenous lands to productive use – especially for resource extraction, be it for timber, uranium, or lithium for electric cars even. The liberatory utopian promise may have its benefits, but can be revealed to always have a dark side. In fact, utopia and dystopia are closer together than typically imagined. Utopia is the fantasy; dystopia oftentimes the reality. The talk sets out to clarify the relation between both extremes, provide a brief cultural history of such ideas, and to reflect on the utopian theory and practice of the American continent.
Philipp Kneis holds an M.A. (Magister) in American Studies and History from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and a Ph.D in American Studies fromthe University of Potsdam. He is one of the founding members of the Transatlantic Students Symposia.He currently teaches at the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University. His main research interests pertain to intersections of culture and politics in the US and the European Union.
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