The project (and its history)

The pro­ject “Uto­pi­an Worlds” was developed with­in the frame­work of a “Call for Cur­a­tion” for the 40th Con­gress of the Ger­man Soci­olo­gic­al Asso­ci­ation, which was ori­gin­ally planned to take place in Ber­lin in Septem­ber 2020 and which, due to the Cov­id-19 pan­dem­ic, is now being car­ried out in digit­al form. The title of the con­gress is “Soci­ety under Ten­sion” and the call for cur­a­tion called for the devel­op­ment of event formats that could link this top­ic with spe­cial places in the city of Ber­lin.

With a col­lec­tion of uto­pi­an world designs, the pro­ject addresses the ten­sion between the pos­sible and the real. Over the cen­tur­ies, the clas­sic story of Thomas More’s Uto­pia (1516) has served as a mod­el for the nar­rat­ive of a good, desired life in a good soci­ety, which has always been developed in con­trast to real con­di­tions. As a basic motif this found its way into soci­olo­gic­al think­ing in many dif­fer­ent ways — from the anthro­po­lo­gic­al found­a­tion of the good life in Karl Marx (1844), Karl Mannheim’s (1928) exam­in­a­tion of the real­ity tran­scend­ing explos­ive power of uto­pi­an con­scious­ness to Ruth Levita’s (2013) pro­pos­al to under­stand uto­pia as a meth­od to pur­sue the con­di­tions of the pos­sib­il­ity of a bet­ter world. While the last peak phase of uto­pi­an think­ing falls in the 1960s/70s and was either stig­mat­ized as total­it­ari­an with the post­mod­ern cri­ti­cism of hol­ist­ic think­ing fig­ures or simply declared obsol­ete after 1989, a renewed interest in the socially crit­ic­al poten­tial of uto­pi­an life plans has become appar­ent in the recent past.

The pro­ject fol­lows on from these dis­cus­sions. Every uto­pi­an world concept is not only an expres­sion of a sub­ject­ively per­ceived social real­ity, but also for­mu­lates ideas of the ‘good’ self, world and social rela­tions. The soci­olo­gic­al goal of this pro­ject is to recon­struct these and thus to sound out the cur­rent poten­tial of uto­pi­an think­ing for social cri­ti­cism.

BHR Box bauhaus reuse – Ernst-Reu­ter-Platz © Silke Steets, 2019

The exhib­i­tion, which is now being cre­ated digit­ally on this web­site, was inten­ded to be shown dur­ing the con­gress in a pavil­ion in the middle island of Ernst-Reu­ter-Platz. The open space is cent­rally loc­ated in Ber­lin-Char­lot­ten­burg on the east-west main traffic axis, which runs from the West Ber­lin Radio Tower via Ernst-Reu­ter-Platz to the Branden­burg Gate and the East Ber­lin TV Tower. Nor­mally the square hardly invites you to linger, it is rather a rest­less traffic island, sur­roun­ded by a busy five-lane round­about. Uto­pi­as are anchored in every­day life, and at the same time they ques­tion the inev­it­ab­il­ity of this every­day life: this ten­sion would be well exper­i­enced with an exhib­i­tion of uto­pi­an world designs on the cent­ral island of Ernst-Reu­ter-Platz. With the digit­al­iz­a­tion of the exhib­i­tion, this loc­a­tion in Ber­lin has been elim­in­ated. In terms of con­tent, how­ever, on closer inspec­tion this is pre­cisely what the pro­ject idea is about: Uto­pia lit­er­ally means ’non-place’ — Thomas More meant a place that is phys­ic­ally and mater­i­ally non-exist­ent, but which can nev­er­the­less be cre­ated in thought and can be recog­nized as a ‘good’ place. This early descrip­tion is in obvi­ous ten­sion with the concept of non-place, as it is rep­res­en­ted today by Marc Augé, for example, in the philo­soph­ic­al debate: as the loss of the anthro­po­lo­gic­al place in an accel­er­ated, uprooted and ulti­mately lonely super­mod­ern­ity. At first glance, the Inter­net is the best example of such a non-place in Augé’s sense. The pro­ject now jux­ta­poses this first glance with a col­lec­tion of uto­pi­an world con­cepts –– and invites you to linger on this homepage.