Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Virtual Communities

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Overview

This brief history connects the past and present of utopian thought, from the first utopias in ancient Greece, right up to present day visions of cyberspace communities and paradise.

  • Explores the purpose of utopias, what they reveal about the societies who conceive them, and how utopias have changed over the centuries
  • Unique in including both non-Western and Western visions of utopia
  • Explores the many forms ...
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Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Virtual Communities

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Overview

This brief history connects the past and present of utopian thought, from the first utopias in ancient Greece, right up to present day visions of cyberspace communities and paradise.

  • Explores the purpose of utopias, what they reveal about the societies who conceive them, and how utopias have changed over the centuries
  • Unique in including both non-Western and Western visions of utopia
  • Explores the many forms utopias have taken – prophecies and oratory, writings, political movements, world's fairs, physical communities – and also discusses high-tech and cyberspace visions for the first time
  • The first book to analyze the implicitly utopian dimensions of reform crusades like Technocracy of the 1930s and Modernization Theory of the 1950s, and the laptop classroom initiatives of recent years
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Segal does a good job of surveying the history of utopias, particularly focusing on the connections with science and technology. Histories of this topic tend to highlight the religious or cultural motivations for writing about or creating utopian societies, but here the author expands the discussion to include virtual communities … This text provides a unique approach for teaching history and the history of science. Highly recommended: general readers; lower-division undergraduates and above.” Choice (1 February 2013)

“Segal brings considerable scholarship and experience to bear, particularly on the historical intersections between technology and utopia ... [He] covers several continents and many centuries, addressing key texts and thinkers ... [and] supplies impressive coverage and thoughtful interpretations.” Times Higher Education (12 July 2012)

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Howard P. Segal is Bird Professor of History at the University of Maine, where he has taught since 1986. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. His previous books include Technological Utopianism in American Culture (1985), Future Imperfect: The Mixed Blessings of Technology in America (1994), Technology in America: A Brief History (1989, 1999, with Alan Marcus), and Recasting the Machine Age: Henry Ford's Village Industries (2005). He also reviews for, among other publications, Nature and the Times Higher Education.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Introduction 1

1 The Nature of Utopias 5

Utopias Defined 5

Utopias Differ from both Millenarian Movements and Science Fiction 8

Utopias' Spiritual Qualities are Akin to those of Formal Religions 9

Utopias'Real Goal: Not Prediction of the Future but Improvement of the Present 12

How and When Utopias are Expected to be Established 13

2 The Variety of Utopias 16

The Global Nature of Utopias: Utopias are Predominantly but not Exclusively Western 16

The Several Genres of Utopianism: Prophecies and Oratory, Political Movements, Communities, Writings, World's Fairs, Cyberspace 24

3 The European Utopias and Utopians and Their Critics 47

The Pioneering European Visionaries and Their Basic Beliefs: Plato's Republic and More's Utopia 47

Forging the Connections Between Science, Technology, and Utopia 50

The Pansophists 53

The Prophets of Progress: Condorcet, Saint-Simon, and Comte 55

Dissenters from the Ideology of Unadulterated Scientific and Technological Progress: Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and William Morris 58

The Expansive Visions of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier 60

The "Scientific"Socialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 66

4 The American Utopias and Utopians and Their Critics 74

America as Utopia: Potential and Fulfillment 74

The Pioneering American Visionaries and their Basic Beliefs in America as Land of Opportunity: John Adolphus Etzler, Thomas Ewbank, and Mary Griffith 78

America as "Second Creation": Enthusiasm and Disillusionment 81

5 Growing Expectations of Realizing Utopia in the United States and Europe 89

Later American Technological Utopians: John Macnie Through Harold Loeb 89

Utopia Within Sight: The American Technocracy Crusade 96

Utopia Within Reach: "The Best and the Brightest"—Post-World War II Science and Technology Policy in the United States and Western Europe and the Triumph of the Social Sciences 99

On Misreading Frankenstein: How Scientific and Technological Advances have Changed Traditional Criticisms of Utopianism in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries 123

6 Utopia Reconsidered 139

The Growing Retreat from Space Exploration and Other Megaprojects 139

Nuclear Power: Its Rise, Fall, and Possible Revival—Maine Yankee as a Case Study 142

The Declining Belief in Inventors, Engineers, and Scientists as Heroes; in Experts as Unbiased; and in Science and Technology as Social Panaceas 157

Contemporary Prophets for Profit: The Rise and Partial Fall of Professional Forecasters 160

Post-colonial Critiques of Western Science and Technology as Measures of "Progress"169

7 The Resurgence of Utopianism 186

The Major Contemporary Utopians and Their Basic Beliefs 186

Social Media: Utopia at One's Fingertips 193

Recent and Contemporary Utopian Communities 194

The Star Trek Empire: Science Fiction Becomes Less Escapist 199

Edutopia: George Lucas and Others 203

The Fate of Books and Newspapers: Utopian and Dystopian Aspirations 217

8 The Future of Utopias and Utopianism 234

The "Scientific and Technological Plateau"and the Redefinition of Progress 234

Conclusion: Why Utopia Still Matters Today and Tomorrow 241

Further Reading 261

Index 269

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2013

    We all have ideas about what an "ideal" world might be

    We all have ideas about what an "ideal" world might be like; this book shows the variety of ways in which different groups and individuals have conceived of improved societies and cultures. It's particularly interesting to take ideas that are centuries old and see them applied to our perceptions of present-day technologies. A most enjoyable and interesting book.

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