Do you believe in Utopia?

Utopia.  A perfect place, with people living in harmonious physical and psychosocial conditions. I think it’s something we should try for. Yet I’m sure you’ll agree when I say I believe we’re a long way from realising the Utopian vision.

High-rise living: not Utopia.

I’ve carried out voluntary work for over 20 years.  I’ve previously spent time working with and learning from kids’ clubs, youth groups and befriending adults with disabilities. Latterly, I’ve  supported foreign students with their academic studies and provided consultancy support to charities. Professionally, I’ve been employed in the community development and education sector for over a decade. I’ve worked with some of the most marginalised people in our society. This has included young people with no qualifications; asylum seekers and refugees; lone parents; the long-term unemployed and people with mental health problems.

All of the roles described above have something in common.  All were carried out in geographical communities that experience ‘multiple deprivations’ ( I also live in such a place). Deprivation in this context means issues such as a high proportion of low income households, high youth unemployment, lower than average educational attainment, poor housing and high percentages of lone-parent households. In recent years, my interests and experiences  have led me to seek out higher education, grasping to put names to the things I knew I didn’t know I knew!  I now have  the privilege and benefit of a Community development degree, and I am currently working on my dissertation for an MSc in Teaching Adults.

Both my personal, educational and professional experiences, as described above,  have converged.  I  do understand the importance of the many separate yet interconnected community projects that try to improve society. But I often feel the physical reality of places are overlooked. Thankfully, asides from amassing £20k+ of student debt, my studies have also gifted me with a new tool-  Psychogeography. The exact definition is contested. But I think the term lends itself well to what I am interested in. That is,  exploring and documenting ‘place’ in an attempt to understand the way we live and the problems we face.  I started working towards this almost accidentally on instagram six months ago, capturing images to show the places I see. The questions and themes that emerged in some of my more imaginative and evocative images are the focus of this blog. They include:

  • Where are the places that inspire us?
  • How do people interact with the spaces that they inherit?
  • Who are the rule makers, rule breakers and rule keepers?
  • What evidence exists that people know better than planners?
  • What makes a space a rejected place?

So, pleased to meet you as I embark upon a psychogeographic jaunt and ramble. Mostly, I’ll focus on the beautifully complicated, friendly and gritty city of Glasgow. But there’s also a strong supporting role for Cumbernauld, my newtown hometown. I’m hoping to hear your thoughts along the way. The first thing I’d like to ask- do you believe in Utopia?

 

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14 thoughts on “Do you believe in Utopia?”

  1. Well yes of course, but by definition, we can only believe in utopia, we can never actually live there. But something close would be nice.

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  2. Fascinating post and so interesting to learn about you in words as well as pictures (I’m @teertsdarbs on IG).

    I think I agree with previous poster so in short yes I do and in doing so I’m believing in an aspirational vision. For me without a vision of a better possible future we are devoid of hope and purpose.

    Would love to chat more some time about your ideas. I work in mental health and am personally interested in space and environment.

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    1. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment, Simon. Nice to ‘meet’ you too. You’re absolutely right that a vision of a better future is sustaining. Think the whole ‘Yes’ movement in Scottish politics encapsulated that. Interesting to hear your work remit and interest in space and environment. I feel so strongly about how people respond to the environments they inherit, and how people cope with the constant negative portrayal of less popular towns and estates. Must have been growing up in the ‘Nauld that did it!

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    1. I’m interested in your thoughts on this. I’m currently researching for a PhD in utopian theory in literature and working with my own experimental creative writing to explore the tensions between utopia and reality. I’ll be interested to keep in touch with your posts. 🙂

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      1. Thanks for replying! Great PhD topic, naturally I’m interested! Glad you plan to keep an eye out for new posts. Most of my reading is non-fiction or academic. Are there any literary titles that you’d recommend?

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      2. Oooh, this is interesting! Well, it depends on your tastes and interests really. But, academically, I would recommend dipping into Ernst Bloch / Thedor Adorno / Fredric Jameson for an insight into utopian literary theory (although you may have already done this!).

        For literary titles, there’s the full-on sci-fi fantasy of Ursula Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness / The Dispossessed), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas / Bone Clocks); there’s Dave Eggers (The Circle), Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, Madd Addam); or The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt explores late nineteenth century Utopianism very effectively.

        There’s the feminist Utopias of Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter.

        Titles with a utopian dynamic, even if not necessarily a utopian subject matter, include Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and the experimental writing of Juliana Spahr (The Transformation) and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (Dictee).

        I hope you find this useful (rather than overwhelming!). I must thank you for your question, as it has been helpful for me to clarify my thoughts around utopian literature and focus on specific examples to recommend.

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  3. Thank-you for the considered reply- I’ll be sure to check out some of those titles next time I’m in the Uni library. I liked the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, so that might be a good place for me to start!

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    1. Thanks for thinking of me! I’ve been seeing a lot about this work recently. Beautiful photographs. Raises questions though, no longer acceptable to photograph children in their urban environments, much as it may reveal something to those who don’t know what life looks like on a ‘scheme’.

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      1. I think the picture of the drunk folk outside the Squirrel bar is problematic- as are some others. I really doubt anyone was able to give consent- or would have even been asked.
        But there’s a whole aspect of the Magnum photos that seem to be social comment too.
        In the end I love the way I see the city changing over time. I like that when I see the wee “behind the scenes ” bits of Glasgow.

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