Postcatastrophic Utopias

Mark Dorrian, John Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Space colonization and subterranean dwelling have been staples of speculative fiction since at least the nineteenth century, but the invention of nuclear weapons and the prospect of global environmental collapse have, certainly since the Cold War, made proposals offering vertical escape from the surface of the planet a matter worthy of serious consideration among engineers, planners, military strategists, and countercultural futurologists. The shift in the conception of utopia, from the lateral displacements typical of its classical formations to the vertical modes of descent and ascent considered in this article, suggests a structural relationship between utopia and catastrophe produced out of the new conditions of global threat inaugurated by atomic weapons. While the prospect of impending global catastrophe would appear to lead to a dystopian or even fatalistic acceptance of the limits of human life on Earth, the most devastating assessments of humanity’s future have also produced utopian proposals for the reimagining of human potentiality below and above the surface of the planet. In a real sense, then, catastrophe has become the precondition for the establishment of utopia, both as the compelling threat that demands a plausible response to impending annihilation and as the necessary event that apocalyptically clears the ground for new modes of living.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-150
Number of pages19
JournalCultural Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


  • catastrophe
  • utopia
  • space colonies
  • bunker
  • Cold War
  • counterculture

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