Dystopian and utopian futures
Utopianism involves the
“critical and creative thinking projecting alternative social worlds that would realise the best possible way of being, based on rational and moral principles, accounts of human nature and history, or imagined technological prospects. Utopian thinking invariably contains criticism of the status quo (Honderich, 1995).”
In Utopianism and Environmentalism, David Pepper discusses ecotopias, utopias of ecological sustainability, and their role in creating transgressive spaces for socio-economic change.
Pepper argues that ecotopias created both by radical and reformist environmentalists are often unrealistic. These utopias are not grounded in the current liberal-capitalist system, and as such their potential to occupy transgressive space towards societal change is limited.
In assuming the position of reformist ecotopianism, Pepper provides counter arguments of why an ecologically considerate society is unlikely to emerge within the current norms of society.
- “Western affluence levels can be universalised in environmentally sustainable ways. [In reality, this would require two to three more planets (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996).
- Conventional economic growth and environmental protection are compatible. [Despite the actual ecological record – for example, the WWF living planet index (a measure of the Earth’s natural wealth) fell by a third between 1970 and 1999 (WWF, 1999).]”
- Firms will embrace anticipatory environmental protection technologies as being profitable. [Whereas, in fact, many opt for the quicker profits offered by end-of-pipe technologies (Neale, 1997).]”
- Capitalist institutions will reform themselves to give equal weight to economic, environmental and social justice goals. [Whereas civil politics are increasingly subordinated to the neoliberal economic agenda, which prioritises competitiveness and market deregulation.]
Peppers skepticism doesn’t end at reform to the system, but also extends to radical transformation of it. Radicals believe that, as it is we who create society, society can be changed “into a post- revolutionary one that explicitly and continuously institutes itself by reclaiming creative activity” to forge a more just world system. Pepper argues radical utopias are often not material enough, as they don’t consider the processes which restrict societal change.
Pepper provides the example of San Francisco’s ‘green city’ program a transgressive utopia, but argues this regional utopia doesn’t adequately problematize the capitalist system. In conclusion, Pepper argues that ecotopianism often lacks a grounding in actual material socio-ecological conditions, and that this limitation detracts from its transgressive potential.
I argue that the transgressive potential for utopias is not as limited as Pepper would have us believe. In fact, there are ongoing changes to the capitalist society itself, creating transgressive utopias.
The benefit corporation and B Corp Certification movement are examples of successful transgressive utopias which are grounded in actual material socio-ecological conditions.
The benefit corporation is a for-profit businesses which, in 35 US States, and BC, Canada, is legally held accountable to consider more than profits in it’s bottom line. B Certified Corporations are those which adhere both to state legal requirements but also go beyond to meet requirements regarding governance, workers, community, and the environment.
Certified B Corps occupy a transgressive space, as the movement changes interactions between state, market, civil society, and consumer. This is the change to society and material factors that Pepper believes utopias so often miss. If we extend the work of benefit corporations to its utopia form, we may find potential for a world where the liberal-capitalist model is transformed or wholly remade into a new social organization in which all stakeholders are included in economic systems for their intrinsic value.
It is when our utopias are grounded equally in socio-material reality and dissatisfaction with the status quo that transgressive spaces are created, linking the present to the future. If nothing else, this ought to inspire us to begin the real work of making space for transgressive utopias in our world today.
Pepper, David. 2005. “Utopianism and Environmentalism.” Environmental Politics 14 (1): 3–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/0964401042000310150.