Utopian Ruins and Social Sustainability

By Simon Robb.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will identify the utopianism informing social sustainability discourse and suggest (using the work of Kraftl) how an ‘uncanny’ utopia might serve to advance thinking about social sustainability. Utopias are descriptions of desired conditions of social relationships and the technologies that facilitate them. Utopias are places that do not exist, that communicate ideas about desired social worlds, and which refer in a critical way to contemporary social conditions. Utopianism, like social sustainability discourse, typically offers visions of a desired social world. These typically are visions of a social world free from violence, inequality and alienation, or in short, ruination. The term ruination is shorthand for the necessary other side of utopias and sustainable societies. There is a repressive tendency in social sustainability discourse towards this other. This paper will argue that one of the ways of developing social sustainability knowledge is by exploring productive relationships between the ideal society and its ruination. Acknowledging the necessary relationship between utopian visions and ruination can invoke a sense of pathos, apprehension or enchantment about time, place and community that can inturn open up a space for questioning and knowledge development. It is at this moment, where ruination returns to sustainability, that the uncanny appears. Drawing on examples from literature and the visual arts, this paper will examine ways that social sustainability knowledge can be expanded through the productive incorporation of social ruin rather than its elimination.

Keywords: Utopia, Social Sustainability, Art

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 2, Issue 7, pp.63-68. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.236MB).

Dr. Simon Robb

Simon Robb is an Adelaide writer and academic. He is currently Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the Research Institute for Sustainable Societies, UniSA, South Australia, researching in the area of social sustainability. His research interests include representations of cultural trauma, cultural theory and aesthetics, and local historical narratives. He is the author of the experimental history 'The Hulk' (post taste, 2003) which was short-listed in the innovation category in the 2004 Adealide Festival of Arts awards for Literature. He is co-editor of 'Tradition and Innovation: Arts, Humanities and the Knowledge Economy', New York: Peter Lang (2004). Simon has also written and produced work for radio (ABC Radio National) and web-based media (The Electronic Writing Research Ensemble).


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