This is the website of the ‘Democracy in East Central European utopianism’ research group.
This is the place for you if you are interested in how literary works, particularly utopias and dystopias reflect on the workings of society.
We are literary scholars and social scientists who primarily study utopian and dystopian texts, focusing on how they reflect on democratic patterns in societies (or their lack). In these blogs we would like to write regularly about the books and scholarly literature we are studying so it would be interesting for everyone.
We look at utopias and dystopias as alternative social structures that primarily reflect on the shortcomings of the societies where they originated. Even if they are set in the future, these literary works offer critical analyses of existing societies, creating an alternative that is presented as an improvement on the shortcomings of social and political structures the writer is familiar with. Likewise, dystopias, the negative counterparts of literary utopias, reflect on existing social problems of the present, often extrapolating or exaggerating the current problems or negative trends. This way in dystopias a fictive society is created, which depicts a distorted version of the present, one that shows a possible, negative outcome if the tendencies of the empirical reality are not changed.
The focus of our research is not on individual texts or their authors, but how the texts reflect the historical context and conflicts concerning ideas of democracy and good government in Central Europe. We understand democracy as a complex notion, one that refers to the political and legal framework of democratic countries, but democracy is also a social structure. It is also a way of thinking about our role in society and our relationship to other people, a form of socialization or mentality of individuals living in democratic communities. Democratic values are present particularly in the communication and decision-making processes. We consider the following aspects particularly important in the workings of a democratic society (whether in literature or outside of it):
- commitment to the common good,
- autonomy and subsidiarity
- presence / acceptance of the plurality of opinions and values,
- acceptance of the human dignity of the other, even (especially) the political opponent.
The novelty of our investigation lies not only in the focus of the research, which is democracy in utopianism, but also in the corpus we are dealing with. Most readers are familiar with the classical Anglo-Saxon authors of the field, such as Thomas More, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell or Margaret Atwood. We would like to draw attention to an equally interesting, yet far less well known Central European tradition, with authors like György Bessenyei, Imre Madách or Mór Jókai from Hungary; Miroslav Krleža, Mato Hanžeković and Lazar Komarčić from Croatia; Đorđe Jovanović and the Zenitism group from Serbia, Josef Bláha and Karel Čapek from Czechia; Emil Cioran from Romania, Cyprian Norwid and Stanislaw Lem from Poland, Volodymyr Vynnychenko from Ukraine – to mention but a few.
We hope that for those who read our blogs, not only these names will sound more familiar, but also the concepts of utopia and democracy will become more comprehensive.