Words To That Effect #18 | What is Utopia?

WTTE Episode 18: What Is Utopia?

This is a story of three journeys, by three people, in three very different times. But each of the journeys ends in the same area in the west of Ireland. And each journey is founded on a search for a more perfect world, a search for utopia.

Episode 18 (part one of a two-part episode on utopian literature) asks what is utopia? In fiction and in reality, in the past, present, and future. What is a utopia exactly and why do we create them? Are they idle dreaming, pointless thought experiments, fantasy worlds we can never reach? Or do utopias serve a more functional, political purpose: blueprints for a more perfect future? As this episode explores, utopian literature has taken many forms in its 500-year history, and the journey towards utopia is just as important as the destination itself.

Utopian literature, however, has fallen out of favour in the last century or so. It has been largely abandoned in favour of the dystopia. From novels and TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale or Black Mirror, to Young Adult (YA) fiction such as The Hunger Games, dystopian fiction is a mainstay of popular culture today.

But there are still plenty of utopias being written today, if you know where to look. This episode takes us from Thomas More’s foundational work, Utopia, first published in 1516, all the way to modern-day YA dystopias. From Edward Bellamy’s 1888 best-seller Looking Backward to the novels of Margaret Atwood and Ursula LeGuin.

But, of course, the utopia is a call to change the world and in this episode I also explore real-life attempts to create utopian communities: Ralahine, an early 19th-century experiment to establish a socialist co-operative, and the Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Tipperary. This modern-day intentional community is modelling a more co-operative and environmentally conscious way of living, at a time when the earth faces the profound problems associated with climate change.

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