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Children’s Utopias

A project by Luca Mori, PhD (Dipartimento di Civiltà e Forme del Sapere, Università di Pisa)

Imagine you have discovered a new inhabited island, and that you and your friends have the opportunity to make it a place where people actually want to live, not just have to live. How would you imagine its landscape and the social life of your community, so that the inhabitants live better than usual? How would you imagine enjoyable places for citizens to spend time together?

As a thought experiment, utopia has long been of interest to philosophers. When children imagine moving to the island of utopia they have to face many problems: what will be the first needs? Among the things we are used to, which should we not take with us? How should we design the landscape? How should we live on the island? What should be the fundamental laws of the island? Are they similar to an existing Constitution? What will happen to those who break the law? What is the best form of government? Will adults be allowed to live on the island? What if strangers come close the island? How to deal with immigration and borders management?

During the school year 2015/2016 I traveled 10.000 Km throughout Italy to propose the thought experiment concerning Utopia to groups of children aged between 6 and 11. I traveled from northern to southern Italy, stopping for example in little towns in the Dolomite Mountains, Bergamo, Modena, Firenze, Pisa, Roma, Napoli, Corleone… (see the complete map here:

There are some constants priorities in their imagined communities: Green space, clean air and the absence of traffic and excessive speed are desirable, as are well-maintained public spaces for eating, playing and spending time together out of doors. The recurrent theme emerging in the details of all the plans is the avoidance of excess: not to build too much, consume too much allow one or a few people to govern for too long, cut down too many trees, catch too many fish, use too much energy, aspire to have too many possessions or too comfortable a life, allow too much disparity between those who have too much and those with too little; play too many video games or spend too much time watching TV… Their utopian islands contain many limits and words of caution about the use of screens, especially television and video games, which “suck you in”, “addict you”, “make you lose all enjoyment outside in the open air” and make parents absent, even when they are present and nearby, but absorbed in smartphones and tablets, playing, emailing or on social networks.

Our children are today hearing many people say we are approaching a critical threshold; they hear talk of imminent social and environmental crises, like a Pandora’s box that is teetering dangerously and on the point of tipping over; at the same time they continue to hope that they are on the verge of not one, but many possible beginnings, some of which might be pleasant and reasonably happy. They have the feeling that 21st century will bring many changes and some of these changes are undesiderable. The search is for moderation, and technologies for achieving it, in other words, those devices that help to exercise the often-deficient sense of limitation, are to be welcomed. The most extravagant and costly technologies in terms of energy and environmental impact remain those developed to defend the Utopia from outsiders, to defend humans from other humans. It is not always like this, but in a significant number of cases it is.

Children’s Utopias highlight that the predicted future and the hoped for “better world” are not in agreement. It is precisely this lack of correspondence on which we invite reflection by anyone attempting to imagine and plan the future space and time of human relations and the technologies that provide them with connections and possibilities.

I have found that children really like to exercise the political imagination together, and that they have something valuable to teach (and to remind) older people. Their Utopias give us a mirror for reimagining our ordinary lives and our political priorities. Now I hope to find help and partners to explore the utopian imagination of European children. Comparing their utopias, children living in Trentino and Sicily have already shared their ideas about how they would like to see an ideal world where everyone can live happily together. They learned with surprise that their wishes are often similar, although they live far away; when the wishes are different, they learn to see many aspects of the world from different points of view. What if children across Europe could begin to share their utopias?


BRASILE. Una bellissima condivisione di idee sta nascendo con un progetto ospitato dal Dipartimento di Filosofia dell’Università di Brasilia, grazie ai contatti attivati dalla Dott.ssa Benedetta Bisol:

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