The term ‘utopia’ was coined by Thomas More in 1516 for his ideal community. In keeping with Utopia’s playful and serious style, the term is an oxymoron. The prefix ‘u’ is a phonetic proximate for ‘eu’ in ancient Greek, meaning ‘good’ and ‘ou’ meaning ‘no’. ‘Topos’ means place. So, ‘utopia is a good place and nowhere at the same time. The term ‘dystopia’ has a much more recent provenance. It did not acquire its main modern sense of a fictional account of an awful state of affairs until the second half of the twentieth century. In recent years, dystopian writing has proved much more popular than attempts to imagine what a modern ideal state might look like. Yet the advent of Covid-19 has merely enacted a familiar narrative conceit of dystopia, where human actions result in the emergence of a lethal virus.
In this talk, Dr Sebastian Mitchell considers the extent to which we should regard the contemporary moment as being dystopian, and whether circumstances are now propitious for the emergence of new forms of utopianism, as expressions of hope and optimism for the third decade of the twenty-first century.