The Slow Cancellation of Futurism: Utopia, Dystopia, and the Imagined City

deadline for submissions: 
March 20, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Finlay Darlington-Bell, Harvard University
contact email: 

CFP: MLA Annual Convention 2024 (4-7 January)

Influenced by Le Corbusier’s ‘Radiant City’, the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects in St. Louis were a modernist, utopian vision of urban renewal. However, they quickly slid into disrepair and in 1972 were partially demolished in a nationwide, televised spectacle. What the failure of Pruitt-Igoe shows us is that the dystopia is always necessarily contained within the utopia: despite the intentions of its architect, Minoru Yamasaki, in planning the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects, it was always destined to be a vision of 'functional' racial segregation by its federal ideators. Although the edict of racial segregation was thrown out by the Supreme Court, the dystopian seed had been planted, and serves as an exemplar for what a dystopia truly is: a utopia unraveled. The transition from celebration to sorrow is perhaps best found in the metamorphosis of the utopia into the dystopia.

Dystopian imaginaries capture this fulcrum at its very point of transformation, deconstructing any expectation of the permanence of the ideal, exposing the inherent, multifaceted nature of ideologies. The ideal city whose ‘well-ordered’ environment would direct and organize human life and society becomes the totalitarian surveillance complex that oppresses the individual. Often, this city is imagined on the other side, whether it is the other of the Pacific Ocean, projecting a radically different ‘future’ onto another continent as with techno-Orientalism or Afrofuturism – or the other side of the threshold of history, as with post-apocalyptic imaginations. These cities foreground the technology that creates both material and social conditions for u/dystopia: cyberpunk, solarpunk, steampunk, nuclear radiation, biomedical engineering, to say the least. We ask, what do these tell us about our social imagination of future and futurity?

What remain to be considered, moreover, are the politics of the future (whether utopian or dystopian). How do politics construct the vision of the future and the imaginary of the city? How does the future (or futurism) engage and interact with the polis? Utopian and dystopian futures are inextricably tied to politics and, as we have seen over and over again, the politics of the future city inevitably shapes its outcome. 

We are looking for proposals which deal with topics including (but not limited to):


  • Urbanism; Metabolism movement; Arcology

  • celebration and Utopian imaginary of the city

  • the city in relation to literary topoi (locus amoenus, locus terribilis, topos outopos)

  • the city as living organism

  • post-apocalyptic cities

  • legacy of Futurist imaginations

  • comparative Futurisms; Afro-futurism; Indigenous Futurism

  • silkpunk; solarpunk; steampunk; biopunk 

  • theories of cyberpunk

  • techno-Orientalism

  • video games with themes of dystopia

  • ‘building the city’ in fiction, film, and videogames

  • utopia and dystopia in science fiction and fantasy


Please send 200-word abstracts to Min Ji Choi, and Finlay Darlington-Bell, by March 20, 2023.