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Abstract

This article argues that that since utopianism is commonly held to consist of three components, the literary utopia, utopian ideologies and communal movements, the term ‘utopia’ should not describe only the first of these, the formal, literary genre, as is often the case, without addressing the other two, where utopian content is more central. Nor can ‘dystopia’, which has usually been used to describe fictional negative societies. A ‘composite’ definition of both terms, however, addresses the three components as inherent to each concept. It is then contended that most utopias are linked by their commitment to a form of enhanced sociability, or more communal form of living, sometimes associated with ideals of friendship, while their dystopian counterparts are substantively connected by the predominance of fear, and the destruction of ‘society’, as a polar opposite of friendship. These definitions imply a spectrum of both utopian and dystopian plausibility; that is to say, where enhanced sociability has been maintained for some period, ‘utopia’ has existed, and where the opposite has occurred, as in totalitarianism, ‘dystopia’ can also be used to describe a real state of affairs. Providing a ‘realistic’ concept of both terms in relation to each other, however, raises some contentious issues about whether, for instance, dystopias are created intentionally, or whether dystopia ideologies as such exist. The article also attempts to distinguish between ‘utopic’ and ‘dystopic’ phenomena, and to plot a prehistory of the concepts of utopia and dystopia.