The conclusion of the Cold War era led to triumphal predictions about the end of history. In fact, the moment marked an end to mass utopias, that is, to the widespread belief in collective emancipation fostered by technologies of the modern state. To reflect on utopia as both artifact and genre is one way to understand how it has changed, and for what reasons. Today the utopian projects of the past are widely questioned; meanwhile social and political debates are crisis-driven rather than shaped by longer-term visions. But utopias continue to emerge—witness the many expressions of hope and struggle, individual and collective, often lacking what movements are reckoned by: leaders, blueprints, manifestos, and cadre. Their performative and material practices of communication, and modes of mediation more broadly, are increasingly prominent, and increasingly difficult to separate from the aspirations expressed. As grand utopian narratives fragment, Rajagopal asks, can attention to their forms of mediation clarify the different kinds of futures being imagined today? Given the idealism inherent in most utopian endeavors, can questions about media and mediation help improve understandings of earlier visions of the future and so cast light on the way utopias may be redrawn for present purposes? Media may not determine our situation, contra Friedrich Kittler, but they may help illuminate it.
Arvind Rajagopal; Introduction: Media and Utopia. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 May 2015; 35 (1): 2–7. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2876044
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