April 17-18, 2023
Conference hall of la Maison des Astronomes, Iméra, Institut d'études avancées (IEA) d'Aix-Marseille Université (2 place Leverrier, 13004, Marseille)


A joint event of Collegium-Institut d’Etudes Avancées de l'Université de Lyon & Iméra, Institut d'études avancées (IEA) d'Aix-Marseille Université

Co-organized by Professors Olga Dror (Texas A&M University and Collegium-Institut d’études avancées de l'Université de Lyon) & Gerard Sasges (National University of Singapore and Iméra, Institut d'études avancées (IEA) d'Aix-Marseille Université / French Institutes for Advanced Study Fellow)




When Thomas More coined the term “utopia” almost five hundred years ago, he played on two Greek homophones, ou-topos meaning “no place” and eu-topos meaning “good place,” to denote an ideal imaginary society that stood in stark contrast with the very real problems of contemporary Europe. Since then, the word has been used countless times to describe projects that strive to produce emancipatory alternatives to existing social/economic/political/formations, capturing at once the hope of creating a better world while also acknowledging that perfect worlds always remain unattainable. 

This interdisciplinary and bilingual (French and English) workshop brings together scholars studying utopian projects across time and space: from medieval China to today’s Marseille, from economic theory to artistic practice. Some may ultimately be dystopic, serving as a warning for would-be builders of utopias. 

Some of the questions that frame our explorations are:

  • Why is/are utopia(s) constructed?
  • How are utopias constructed? 
  • On what infrastructures (physical, ideological, social, visual) have people built utopias?
  • Who are initiators and implementers of the construction?
  • What have been the costs and results? 
  • What lessons (positive and negative) can we apply to the building of real utopias?

By exploring different “fragments” of utopias we hope to at once rekindle belief in utopia’s possibility and to identify those elements necessary to realize them. 



Christophe Bruno, Iméra

Adam Yuet Chau, Cambridge University

Olga Dror, Texas A&M University and Collegium de Lyon

Glenn Dutcher, Ohio University and Collegium de Lyon

maryline El-Khoury, Université de Liège

Paul Josephson, Colby College

Robert Krause, Université Albert Ludwig de Fribourg and Iméra

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, Kingston University London

Gerard Sasges, National University of Singapore and Iméra

Natália Ayo Schmiedecke, University of Hamburg

Verónica Zubillaga, Universidad Simón Bolívar and Collegium de Lyon




Monday, April 17

15:00   Opening remarks: Jean-Michel Roy, Director, Collegium de Lyon and Enrico Donaggio, Academic Director, Institut d’études avancées, Marseille

16:00   Panel 1: WORKING UTOPIAS

17:00   Coffee Break



Tuesday, April 18


10:30   Coffee Break



14:00   Panel 5: CULTURES OF UTOPIAS

15:30   Coffee Break

16:00   Panel 6: VISIONS OF UTOPIAS

17:30   When ideologies become forms : visit of Xanadu gallery (Iméra)

18:00   End of workshop and aperitif






maryline El-Khoury, Université de Liège, "L'Après M : entre stratégie de survie et utopie, perspective critique"

L'Après M émerge d'une lutte syndicale pour la protection des emplois et la défense de l'outil de travail. Après un conflit qui s'articule autour de la condition salariale, les bénévoles réquisitionnent le restaurant et le transforment en coopérative. Comment les revendications et la politisation du lieu en sont-elles affectées ? Qu'est ce que le lieu permet ? Comment la transformation du conflit affecte-t-elle les conditions et l'organisation du travail ? 



Glenn Dutcher, Ohio University and Collegium de Lyon, “Utopia and Fairness”

Fairness serves as the foundation of Utopia, but what is fair, how do we judge it and do we consistently behave in a fair manner? Substantive and procedural judgments of fairness can be tested with the ultimatum game and the dictator games. After explaining the game's core concepts and a general theory of inequality aversion, I will highlight empirical findings shedding light on how humans view fairness. These results have implications for the (un)feasibility of a Utopia.

Robert Krause, Université Albert Ludwig de Fribourg and Iméra, "Les rôles des récits dans la construction d'utopies : l'exemple du revenu universel

Dans certains récits utopiques récents, le revenu universel joue un rôle clé. La conférence se concentrera sur la fonction narrative de cet élément afin de contribuer à la question de savoir comment les utopies peuvent être construites. Deux utopies temporelles récemment publiées seront examinées à titre d'exemple : les livres de Yanis Varoufakis (Another Now. Dispatches from an Alternative Present [2021]) et de Daniel Weißbrodt (Kurzer Abriss der Deutschen Geschichte 2022-2050 [2019])."



Paul Josephson, Colby College, “Technological Utopias of the Internet Age”

Futurologists, innovators, entrepreneurs and others have long identified novel technological systems as the solution to a variety of transportation, communication and other human needs.  Yet technologies are a product of the present and tied into existing social, political and cultural structures that shape future possibilities.  This presentation will consider the promises and realities of three technologies of the internet age – autonomous automobiles, internet dating and electronic bathrooms – and the ways in which forces of greed, selfishness, racism and sexism may limit hopes for a cleaner, quieter, and safer future.

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, Kingston University London, “De-fragmenting Utopias: Inheriting Nuclear Material Culture in the Post-Soviet Russia”

This presentation suggests that industrial heritage constitutes an interesting case of the material culture of utopias. Focusing on nuclear cultural heritage-making in two Soviet atomic cities, Obninsk and Sarov, it traces the development of the celebratory and critical narratives in the attempts to make sense of the nuclear infrastructures. The presentation discusses the ambivalence of the material nuclear culture as it can be deployed to challenge and bolster the nationalist and imperialistic notions of Russian nuclear power asking, to what extent the Soviet utopia of nuclear power can be de-fragmented through critical cultural heritage



Verónica Zubillaga, Universidad Simón Bolívar and Collegium de Lyon, “The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela: from Hugo Chávez's promise of social transformation to Nicolás Maduro's necropolitics” 

The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is a tragic case of how a utopian project can become a dystopian nightmare for its inhabitants. My reflection will start from the promises of the social and political emancipation project led by Hugo Chávez to the practice of systematic killing deployed by the government of Nicolás Maduro. We will dialogue with the notion of necropolitics developed by the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe. We will end our reflection with the notion of Tragic Optimism proposed by Viktor Frankl to describe the work developed by social organizations and victims of state violence in the search for justice in the country.

Gerard Sasges, National University of Singapore and Iméra, “Singapore and the utopia of impermanence” 

What is the effect of living in a place without lieux de memoire, where landscapes are constantly remolded and neighborhoods vanish according to a 60-year cycle? How do individuals respond to life in a society where the human is being replaced by the technical? What if the change that people aspire for is stability, and dignity and independence are to be found at society’s margins? These questions emerge from 300 in-depth interviews of working people in Singapore across a range of occupations, ages, and ethnicities. Their stories document their aspirations for permanence as much as change and their ongoing efforts to maintain spaces of agency and dignity in a world where developmentalist rhetoric and technological practices converge in the promise of a depoliticized utopia.



Olga Dror, Texas A&M University and Collegium de Lyon, “Algerian Utopia of Vietnam”

 In 1970, a famous Algerian author Kateb Yacin wrote a play entitled "L'homme aux sandales de caoutchouc" (the man with rubber sandals) that takes place in Vietnam. Yacin’s choice of Vietnam was not accidental. Like Algeria, Vietnam was a French colony and, like Algeria, it fought for its independence. This play is Yacin's utopian representation of Communist Vietnam and its leader Ho Chi Minh to express his bitter disappointment in and resentment toward how nationalist leaders constructed Algerian independence. “Utopianizing” Vietnam was his rebuke to Algerians and his appeal to follow the example of Communist Vietnam. 

Natália Ayo Schmiedecke, University of Hamburg, “Concretizing the Revolutionary Utopia through Art in Latin America: Chilean New Song and OSPAAAL”

Revolutionary expectation and rapprochement between art and politics were hallmarks of the Latin American 1960s and 1970s. In this context, writers and artists felt responsible for contributing to increase the subjective conditions that would lead to the Third World revolution. In this presentation, I will argue that the artists sought to realize the utopias of the period in their works. I will focus on the cases of the New Chilean Song movement and the graphic art of OSPAAAL to analyze different aesthetic resources used by musicians and visual artists to bring together different contexts, building the desired identity and unity of the “wretched of the earth”. I will also reflect on the limits of this project.



Adam Yuet Chau, Cambridge University, “Calm Countenance, Peaceful Heart, Pure Land: The Making of Buddhist Subjects and Dharma Utopia in the Contemporary Sinophone World”

The dominant strand of Chinese Buddhism in today’s Sinophone world is the so-called ‘Buddhism for the human realm’ (renjianfojiao), advocating the building of Pure Land in this world through the individual yet cumulative efforts of millions of Buddhist devotees. This utopic project is grandly aspirational, yet seemingly realisable on smaller scales in one’s household; in one’s relationship with neighbours, friends and work mates; but most importantly through transforming oneself into a bodhisattva, maintaining a peaceful heart, wearing a calm countenance and radiating dharmic benevolence wherever one finds oneself.

Christophe Bruno, Iméra, “When ideologies become form”

Cette conférence se déroulera autour de la pratique artistique de Christophe Bruno, avec un focus sur son œuvre récente, Bursts (projet artistique réalisé en collaboration avec Chrystelle Desbordes, historienne de l'art), 2023. When ideologies become form présentera une mise en regard des formes esthétiques et politiques du réseau, entre utopies et dystopies. Il s'agira de voir comment ces questions s'articulent avec l'histoire visuelle des idéologies, que l'on peut également regrouper sous l'expression générique: "Propagande par l'image.”

L'installation Bursts sera visible pendant le workshop à la galerie Xanadu, maison des Astronomes de l'Iméra, dans l'exposition When ideologies become form.