Imagining Different Ways of Working with Young People – the Utility of Utopian Dreams

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Charlie COOPER, University of Hull, United Kingdom
A long-standing limitation in youth policy debates is the inability to conceptualise and dream differently possibilities for human wellbeing beyond what ‘should be’. Mainstream social policy thinking is largely limited to ‘tinkering’ with the system, influenced by normative thinking dictated by a particular morality. This inability to imagine a reconstituted society (‘utopia’) encapsulating human flourishing is addressed by Levitas (2013) who urges sociologists to take utopia studies seriously and as offering ‘a critical tool for exposing the limitations of current policy discourses … [promoting] genuinely holistic thinking about possible futures … The core of utopia is the desire for being otherwise, individually and collectively’ (Levitas 2013: xi). Levitas’ call informs the substance of this paper. It utilises William Morris’ News from Nowhere, written in 1890, to illustrate the potential of utopia as a social science method that offers a heuristic device to encourage us to desire something better. ‘[W]e should understand it as the catalyst of a process, in which the reader is an active agent, of disrupting the normative and conceptual frameworks of mundane experience’ (Levitas 2013: 113).

The diverse experience of an ISA audience offers an opportunity to facilitate dialogue to explore the possibilities of dreaming different ways of working with young people  – beyond the current neoliberal system to what ‘could be’. It is clear from the current literature, and today’s difficult economic and social context, that this is an area both ripe and vital for exploration.


Levitas, R. (2013) Utopia as Method - The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Morris, W. (2004) News from Nowhere and Other Writings, London: Penguin.