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Democracy in East Central European utopianism

September, 2022 - August, 2025
Gerda Henkel Foundation
Central European University
Lead researchers
Research areas

The project aims at the systematic analysis of utopian and dystopian texts, focusing on the problems and conflicts utopianism highlights concerning the ideals of democracy. We shall investigate what elements of democratic societies have been endorsed and / or criticised by utopias, which we understand as social and political structures presented as alternatives to historical reality. We shall contrast the utopian ideals and their dystopian counterparts with historical and political movements to trace the intellectual history of democracy within utopianism. Beyond the analysis of texts, the research explores the impact of utopian thought on social and political movements and phenomena, analysing texts in their historical contexts, focusing on the social and historical circumstances in which they were created.

The novelty of the investigation lies not only in the focus of the research -- democracy in utopianism -- but also in the scope of research: rather than focusing on Western, particularly Anglo-Saxon texts as most researches do, we will analyse East Central European utopian texts. This way the project contributes to the intellectual history of Central Europe. The research focus is not on individual texts or their authors, but how the texts reflect the historical context and conflicts concerning ideas of good government in East Central Europe. Further, how these conflicts reflect attitudes towards democracy in the region, particularly in comparison and contrast to Western Europe will be central to the study.

The research group will analyse utopian and dystopian texts and investigate the role of the elements of democracy in their depictions of ideal social and political structures.

The survey also examines how various forms of democracy, experienced or imagined (direct, indirect, representational, (il)liberal, grassroots etc.) appear in various utopian contexts and what can be learned from their impacts on historical or fictive human communities. Beyond the political structures, we shall examine democratic mentalities of individuals as they appear in the texts, including the presence or absence of democratic values in communication and decision-making processes.

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