Navigating between dystopia and utopia

“Since about 500 years BC, we know that “No man ever steps in the same river twice” (Heraclitus). As ubiquitous change ever might be, however, it has always been challenging to explain, predict or enact societal change. The dialectics of societal change seem to imply that a readiness for change is inextricably linked to the prevalence of future-oriented ideas as situated in the present. And there is tragedy involved as well: At times, “Zeitgeist” has futures in high demand, instilling hope and solidarity in the oppressed and disadvantaged in spite of a grim reality; in other times, mundane frustrations of daily life and forces of tradition make alternatives appear to be unthinkable against the dominating ideas. With the current Covid pandemic unfolding globally, these ideational tragedies of change are put under a magnifying lens. The pandemic reveals both, humankind’s embeddedness in nature and the power of solidarity to withstand nature’s challenges. At the same time, the huge gaps between the life-experiences of people within and across societies become visible: for some, a return to a lost normality cannot come fast enough, for others, a “new normal” ought to be better than a past which has led to global inequality and climate crisis.

As someone who studies industrial relations and organizations, my key theme for the utopia platform is how to achieve a “just transition” towards a more sustainable future. If I learnt anything from my studies, it is that a just transition does not just fall from the sky but needs to be hammered out in conflict. This is the lesson from decades, if not centuries, of struggles fought about industrial democracy, humane working conditions and global labour standards, the societal rules of production and appropriation as well as the inclusion of groups into the labor market. However, in these struggles enduring compromises have never been found without new visions and ideas to go beyond impasse as well as the imagination of the proper means of how to overcome the stumbling blocks in the way forward.

My hope for the #UP-IT platform is that it facilitates a broad, collective debate on how to envision new solutions for the many problems the sustainability crisis brings along. For me, this involves thinking also about how to make societies and organizations more resilient and robust, but much more how to make them more inclusive, participative and diverse. The joint study, debate and practicing of utopia and imagination may be leveraged for different purposes in a variety of ways which strengthens unexpected coalitions, helps in finding common denominators, fosters collaboration and supports local collective action. This way, I would be glad if the utopia platform contributes to turning the current crises into a window of opportunity for building bridges towards a better future.”

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