Managing Utopia: Artistic visions of sustainable lifestyles and their realization

Activity: Talk or presentationGuest lecturesResearch

Volker Kirchberg - Speaker

This paper will focus – theoretically and by empirical illustration – on the management of urban ‘spaces of possibility’, and is part of an interdisciplinary research project, “The City as Space of Possibility”, describing and analyzing artistic initiatives for the sustainable urban development in Hannover, Germany ( For this paper, I translate these ‘spaces of possibility’ into ‘real utopias’. I adopt this wording from Erik Olin Wright’s book 'Envisioning Real Utopias' (Wright 2011) where a theory of utopian possibility is outlined, based on a critique of our current living conditions, desirable alternatives, their possible viability and their practical achievability. In addition, I have consulted Jamison (2012) on 'utopian practices', Bauman’s (2002, 2012) treatment of utopia in his ‘liquid modernity’ (cf. Jacobsen 2004), Bloch’s (1959) ‘concrete utopia’ in his magnum opus ‘principle of hope’ (cf. Thompson 2012), and Foucault's (1993) ‘heterotopia’, as a radical different place to the social and cultural mainstream but not unreal as ‘fantastic utopia’ but real as an 'intentional community' that might offer possibilities for a future sustainable development. These are the theoretical foundations. Issues of the implementation and management of ‘real utopias’ can be found in the concept of 'prefigurative politics'; here, Sitrin (2007) emphasizes that every practice of utopian transformation of liveable urban spaces needs realistic considerations about future macro-societal developments. This obligation of utopian development, to materialize in spatial and institutional processes and structures, has been also stressed by David Harvey (2000) in his book 'Spaces of Hope'. Putting the ‘real’ in the ‘real utopia’ means (1) to manage visions as objectives for a better sustainable future, (2) to deploy concepts of ‘utopia’ in a realistic way, (3) to balance the demands of society’s structural constraints without losing track of the visionary parts, and (4) to maintain 'creativity spaces' in an imaginative sense, as images of spaces for experiments, mediation, and communication of sustainable and innovative lifestyles and values (Welzer and Rammler 2012) and social and cultural innovation (Duxbury und Murray 2010). Based on the interpretation of the above theoretical texts (first paragraph) and on processes that try to accomplish ‘real utopias’ (second paragraph) a group of master students – with my assistance –will choose concrete (artistic) projects of ‘spaces of possibility’ in the city of Hannover, and will then explore the transformation of these spaces into ‘real utopias’, including the motives, incentives, barriers and constraints of realizing ‘utopias’. The results of this seminar will illustrate and test the significance of the above theoretical considerations.


Midterm Conference: Sociology of the Arts and Creativity - ESA-Arts 2016: Working on Identity and Difference


Porto, Portugal

Event: Conference