Episode 18: What is utopia?

Words To That Effect Podcast (Utopian Literature)

Utopian Literature & Utopian Journeys

This is a story of three journeys, by three people, in three very different times. But each of the journeys ends in the same area in the west of Ireland. And each journey is founded on a search for a more perfect world, a search for utopia.

Episode 18 (part one of a two-part episode on utopian literature) explores the utopia in fiction and in reality, in the past, present, and future. What is a utopia exactly and why do we create them? Are they idle dreaming, pointless thought experiments, fantasy worlds we can never reach? Or do utopias serve a more functional, political purpose: blueprints for a more perfect future? As this episode explores, utopian literature has taken many forms in its 500-year history, and the journey towards utopia is just as important as the destination itself.


Utopian and Dystopian Fiction

Utopian literature, however, has fallen out of favour in the last century or so. It has been largely abandoned in favour of the dystopia. From novels and TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale or Black Mirror, to Young Adult (YA) fiction such as The Hunger Games, dystopian fiction is a mainstay of popular culture today.

Utopian Literature Today

But there are still plenty of utopias being written today, if you know where to look. This episode takes us from Thomas More’s foundational work, Utopia, first published in 1516, all the way to modern-day YA dystopias. From Edward Bellamy’s 1888 best-seller Looking Backward to the novels of Margaret Atwood and Ursula LeGuin.

But, of course, the utopia is a call to change the world and in this episode I also explore real-life attempts to create utopian communities: Ralahine, an early 19th-century experiment to establish a socialist co-operative, and the Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Tipperary. This modern-day intentional community is modelling a more co-operative and environmentally conscious way of living, at a time when the earth faces the profound problems associated with climate change.



My guests this week are Prof Tom Moylan and Prof Peadar Kirby

ralahine_logo Words To That Effect Ep18 utopian literatureTom Moylan is Glucksman Professor Emeritus in the School of Languages, Literature, Culture at the University of Limerick. He is Founder and Co-Director of the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies, where he is also one of the editors of the Ralahine Utopian Studies Book Series. His full bio can be found here

The Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies can be found here


Peadar Kirby is Professor Emeritus of International Politics and Public Policy in the University of Limerick. He has published widely on Ireland’’s model of development, on Latin American politics and political economy, on globalisation, and on climate change. He is a director of the company developing Cloughjordan ecovillage, Co. Tipperary, where he lives.

His full bio can be found here

His latest book is The Political Economy of the Low-Carbon Transition: Pathways Beyond Techno-Optimism, co-authored with Dr Tadhg O’Mahony, recently published by Palgrave Macmillan

In early 2017, Transitioning to a Post-Carbon Society: Degrowth, Austerity and Wellbeing‘, co-edited with Ernest Garcia and Mercedes Martinez-Iglesias, was published by Palgrave Macmillan. It has a chapter on Cloughjordan ecovillage as modelling the transition to a low-carbon society.


You can find out more about the Cloughjordan Eco Village on their website here

There are also some nice contemporary photos of the Ralahine co-operative on this blog post



Saso - mysterium words To That Effect ep18 utopian literatureMusic this week is by the extremely talented Saso, from their albums Exitudes and Mysterium. You can listen to all their music here or

Track Listings

Mysterium (Mysterium)

High Speed (Mysterium)

Cardboard Cutout (Exitudes)

Winter Into Spring (Mysterium)

Hermetic (Mysterium)

Billion Hands (Exitudes)

Silent Earth (Exitudes)


Works Mentioned

Thomas More: Utopia

Edward Bellamy: Looking Backward

H.G. Wells: Various utopian novels from A Modern Utopia onwards

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland

Florence Caroline Dixie: Gloriana

William Morris: News From Nowhere

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451

Margaret Atwood: A Handmaid’s Tale & The MaddAddam Trilogy

Cormac McCarthy: The Road

3% (TV series)

Black Mirror (TV series)

Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games

James Dashner: The Maze Runner

Veronica Roth: Divergent


Looking for more science fiction to go with your utopias? This episode is on Irish Science Fiction and this one is on brain myths and science fiction

Or how about an episode on transhumanism, science fiction and immortality
and a very different type of utopian (or dystopian future)


If you enjoy the episode and want to find out how to support the show then click here for more information.

(William Edward Hickman Episode) Support the show on Patreon

Want to build your own utopia? Let me know in the comments below or check out the Words To That Effect Facebook Page

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