Utopia, breakdown, repair: Failure and success in social dreaming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

A common charge against utopianism is that any attempt to create blueprints for a better future disregards a basic fact: humans’ proclivity for failure. In response, defenders of social dreaming have argued that failure can become generative, once we abandon the perfectionism that ostensibly inheres in utopian visions. Building on this revaluation, the paper applies a crucial lesson from engineering and design studies—that often artificial failure modes are required to enhance the safety of tools and machines. To flesh out this point, I turn to utopian fiction and discuss Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital-trilogy, which rejects techno-optimism about our climate-changed world, yet hails the transformative potential of an anti-capitalist scientific community. Ultimately, the paper claims that, if we cannot have success in addressing the climate emergency without committing serious mistakes, then one (but clearly not the only) path forward is to imaginatively prefigure the faultlines along which ecomodernist dreams for a “good Anthropocene” might rupture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-447
Number of pages17
JournalNew Political Science
Issue number3
Early online date20 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • utopia
  • climate emergency
  • design and engineering studies
  • failure
  • ecomodernism
  • Kim Stanley Robinson
  • perfectionism


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