CfP: Utopia(s) and inequalities between men and women (from Antiquity to the 21st Century)

Alon Lischinsky alischinsky at
Mon Oct 14 09:20:00 UTC 2013

(With apologies for cross-posting)

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Utopia(s) and inequalities between men and women (from Antiquity to
the 21st Century)

International multidisciplinary conference
Université Charles de Gaulle – Lille 3
18-20 June 2015

How do utopias represent, increase or resolve inequalities between men
and women? This is the starting point for this international

‘Utopia’ (ou-topos, meaning no place) is a term coined by Thomas More
in his eponymous text, published in 1516. In the Bâle edition of the
same text (1518), More uses the term Eutopia to designate the
imaginary place he wrote about. This neologism does not rely on the
negation found in ou- but in the prefix eu- meaning good. Eutopia
therefore means ‘the place of well-being,’ in other words, an ideal

Often satirical and subversive, the aim of a utopia is to denounce the
shortcomings of a given era through an imaginary (faraway or mythical)
place: Plato’s Kallipolis, Marivaux’s Slave Island (1725), Candide’s
Eldorado (1759) and so on; the spatial (and sometimes temporal)
distancing is aimed at avoiding (political, religious) censorship.
This tradition and literary genre goes all the way back to Plato’s
Republic (c. 370 B.C.) and takes in Tommaso Campanella’s City of the
Sun (1623), Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1628), Etienne Cabet’s
Travel and Adventures of Lord William Carisdall in Icaria (1840) etc.

To the masculine literary utopias which were often misogynist right up
until the 19th Century (Aristophanes, Swift, William Morris), where
the only women worthy of any interest are wives and mothers (Bacon,
More, Bellamy, etc.), an increasing number of feminine utopias were
added (Christine de Pisan, Margaret Cavendish, Sarah Scott, Lady Mary
Hamilton, Mary Livermore, Mary Howland, Martha Bensley Bruere, Ines
Haynes Gillmore, Charlotte Haldane etc.), some of which ‘exclude’ the
presence of men (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Bradley Lane, etc.).

The 20th Century saw the blossoming of dystopias or counter-utopias
which indicate an increasing wariness of Grand Narratives and Marxist
and Communist ideology. Orwellian dystopias encourage detachment from
the ideal of perfection and political innocence which characterised
positive utopias. But dystopias also encapsulate “negative utopias” in
which the quest for happiness involves the suppression of suffering or
inequality and often of gender and its oppressive asymmetry. What
Jameson terms the principle of ‘world reduction’ becomes one of the
strategies used by Ursula Le Guin in her feminist science fiction, for
example, in which an ambisexual world (Gethern) devoid of all the
problematic and violent aspects of sexuality and of capitalism is
depicted. How should these paradoxical utopias which are based on
penury be analysed and to what extent is this evolution of the utopia
genre linked to the consideration of gender oppression or to specific
sexualities? What does this evolution teach us about a feminine or
feminist conception of power and the interaction that women and
feminists can or must have with ‘power’?

Beyond utopias or the tension between utopia and dystopia, how can one
consider a space and a different organisation of relations through the
Foucaldian prism of ‘heterotopias’, other places which offer a
simultaneously mythical and real contestation of traditional space?
What role do these ‘other spaces’ of fiction play in reconstitution
when literature becomes, as Sedgwick for example would have it, a sort
of surface for projection of ‘gender troubles’? (Epistemology of the
Closet [1990] and Between Men. English Literature and Male Homosocial
Desire [1985]). Juxtaposing in one real space many sometimes
incompatible spaces, heterotopias introduce a total rupture with
habitual time; they are heterochronies, combining a system of opening
and closing, creating a space of illusion which denounces as even more
illusory real space, or presents another means of organisation. How
should one consider these sorts of ‘effectively enacted utopia in
which the real sites are simultaneously represented, contested and
inverted, [these places which are] outside of all places, even though
it may be possible to indicate their location in reality’ (Foucault,
‘Of Other Spaces’)? Can these perilous experiences where something of
the subject and its relationship with the world, itself and others is
at play be used as a paradigm to rethink, outside of habitual space
and time, an exceptional scheme of sexuations and sexualities which
would break with the point of departure that is sexual difference? To
what extent do urban sexual utopias which reveal what Gayle Rubin has
called ‘sexual ethnogenesis” participate in successful heterotopias in
so far as they produce non normative social and sexual
restratifications and alternative power dynamics (with SM culture in
San Francisco for example)?

If utopias are thrilling in their opening up of a marvellous space,
heterotopias are worrying, subverting even language and
imagination.What happens then to relations between and beyond the
sexes, and what words can give expression to them ? How can this topos
be taken up to rethink these relations and to elaborate discourses
which could incorporate difference and express the power of
distortion? Something akin to this seems to play itself out in the
alternative suggested by Foucault in The Will to Know (1976), between
‘bodies and pleasure’ and ‘the deployment [dispositif] of sexuality’
which constrains and limits the expression thereof. Isn’t this rather
an invitation to rearticulate sexuality and ‘the use of pleasure’,
within the utopian dimension of an ars erotica?

In his work devoted to heterotopias (‘other spaces’), Foucault insists
again on the primacy of space over time in our contemporary era which
is more and more ‘heterochronic’. Can one, moving on from this, expand
the spatial dimension inscribed in the very word ‘utopia’ to include
cyberspace? This would involve considering the new modes of relation
and networks constituting identities and provisional alliances evoked
by Donna Haraway in ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ (1991), internet having
facilitated the simultaneous emergence of new logics of affiliation,
belonging, affinities, pragmatic grouping together, new modes of
action, beyond the opposition between public and private spheres.

Possible avenues to explore:

Areas where inequalities between man and women manifest themselves:
education, celibacy, (mutual) choice of partner, conception of
marriage (economic necessity etc.), birth control (even eugenics),
right to judicial protection, property rights, right to work and so

Is it possible, within a utopia, to escape patriarchy and power
relations (property, religion, marriage)?

Can one consider some travel writing or anthropological/ethnological
writing as a form of utopia presenting other possibilities
(Mediterranean patriarchy; texts by libertine travellers evoking
painless childbirth in order to question the Bible…)

* Utopias/dystopias and power
* Utopias/dystopias and discrimination
* Utopias/dystopias and sexualities
* Gendered and degendered utopias
* Feminist/Queer utopias/dystopias
* Utopias/heterotopias
* Utopias/dystopias and feminist strategies (separatism, communities,
* Utopias/dystopias in the digital age
* Utopias/dystopias and technologies
* Utopias/dystopias and architecture, urbanism, literature, cinema,
the visual arts (painting, graphic novels), popular culture, science
fiction, performance, the arts, festivals
* Communitarian utopias/dystopias and urban subcultures
* Utopias/dystopias and bodies
* Utopias, cinema and dystopian video games…

Abstracts for papers, panels or performances should be 400 words,
accompanied by a short bio-bibliography, and sent as a Word document
to Guyonne Leduc (guyonne.leduc at before November 30st.
Proposals for panels and performances should also be addressed to
Marie-Hélène Bourcier (mariehelenebourcier at

Notification of acceptance will be given in December 2013 after
anonymous examination by the scientific committee.

It is hoped that selected papers from the conference will be published.
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