utopia, utopianism
A utopia is an imaginative account of a perfect society or ideal commonwealth. The term, which is often used derogatively to mean unrealistic, is derived from Sir Thomas More's Utopia(1516), but in sociology it is usually associated with the sociology of knowledge of Karl Mannheim . In Ideology and Utopia (1929), Mannheim claimed that subordinate groups and classes are attracted to utopian beliefs which emphasize the possibilities of change and transformation, whereas dominant social classes typically adopt an ideological outlook which emphasizes stability and continuity. For Mannheim, the radical views of the Anabaptist sects were examples of utopianism. However, Mannheim's interest in utopianism also had a philosophical and religious dimension: it is the capacity for utopianism which ultimately defines human nature , that is, the capacity to imagine alternative futures.
Mannheim's perception of the relationship between utopianism and human ontology was also shared by the Marxist social philosopher Ernst Bloch, whose The Principle of Hope (1959) examined the role of dreaming, fairy stories, utopian philosophies, and fantasies in human societies. For Bloch, utopianism was an anticipatory consciousness which is ubiquitous. Utopias have two dimensions, material and subjective, which he expressed in terms of the Not-Yet-Become and the Not-Yet-Conscious. Bloch's ideas were a protest against the failures of organized communism in Eastern Europe.
The utopian strands in Karl Marx's theory of communism are retained in even the most revisionist of contemporary neo-Marxisms . The work of André Gorz is typical in this respect. Born in Austria, Gorz became one of the leading social and political theorists of the French New Left, and for a time editedLes Temps modernes. He has written numerous short, popular articles, and a series of influential books including Ecology as Politics (1980), Farewell to the Working Class (1982), Paths to Paradise (1985), and Critique of Economic Reason (1989). Though strongly influenced by Marxist ideas, and especially by Sartre, Gorz has continually attempted to revise this heritage in the light of his own analyses of contemporary social changes, and his distinctive vision of a possible utopian future. His earlier work proposed a strategy for the labour movement based on an alliance between the declining ‘traditional’ working class and a growing ‘new’ working class. The meaninglessness and alienation of work in advanced capitalism were conditions shared by these different groups. Subsequently, however, Gorz ceased to assign to the working class in any form the revolutionary role expected by classical Marxism. Technological change in advanced capitalist societies is bringing about fundamental changes in the social structure: ‘worker-producers’ are increasingly outnumbered by a heterogeneous population in insecure, part-time, or temporary work, in other words a growing ‘post-industrial neo-proletariat’. At the same time, the obsession with economic growth and the commitment to the work ethic are increasingly destructive of both nature and of personal life in society. New social movements , especially ecological politics, point the way to a future in which class and domination are ended. A basic income will be provided independently of work. Technology will be employed to reduce to a minimum that element of unrewarding labour which remains necessary for the meeting of need. Meanwhile, such necessary labour as is required will be shared equally among the population. The progressive reduction in the working week made possible by these arrangements will free people for a creative, autonomous, and convivial use of their time and energies.
Gorz's work has been subjected to searching criticism in Boris Frankel's The Post-Industrial Utopians (1987). For a more general treatment of the topic see, The Concept of Utopia (1990). See also commune ; messianic movement.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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