Thoughts on Utopia/Heterotopia

‘There are also, and probably in every culture, in every civilisation, real places, actual places, places that are designed into the very institution of society, which are sorts of actually realised utopia….’

In the essay below, I provide some thoughts on the similarities and differences between the two contested concepts of heterotopia and utopia.  In terms of utopia, I briefly outline broad Blochian approaches to the utopian qualities of cultural productions as developed by Levitas. I go on to discuss Lefebvre’s concept of ‘heterotopy’ and Jameson’s work on utopianism, also influenced by Bloch. Finally, using Harvey’s work on ‘dialectical utopianism’, I argue that heterotopia is not anti-utopian, but provides a sideways analysis of existing material spaces in order not to anticipate the future, but to reflect upon and disturb the present.

Download: Reflections on the relationship between utopia and heterotopia


Woodcut of the island of Utopia on frontispiece of the 1st edition of Thomas More’s Utopia 1516


1. Some literature that looks at links between heterotopia and utopia:

Allo, K. and Piliang, Y. A.  (2010) ‘Utopia, Heterotopia, and Mediatopia: Rethinking Foucault and Performativity in Krisna Murti’s Video Artworks’, Melintas, 26 (1) 53-62.

Coleman, N. (2012) ‘Utopic Pedagogies: Alternatives to Degenerate Architecture’ Utopian Studies.23 (2) 314-35.

Couton, P (2009) ‘Movement as Utopia’ History of Human Sciences. 22:4 93-121.

Decock, S. (2011)  “The Loving Conquest and Embrace”: On Peaceful Heterotopias and Utopias in Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s Asian and African Travel Writings. Women in German Yearbook 27 109-130

Duran, J. (2000) ‘Utopia, Heterotopia, and Memory in Carmen Boullosa’s Cielos De La Tierra’ Studies in Literary Imagination. 33:1 51

Fischer-Lichte, E. and  Wihstutz, B.  (eds.) (2012) ‘Utopia and Heterotopia’ (5 essays) in Performance and the Politics of Space: Theatre and Topology. London: Routledge Advances in Theatre and Performance Studies, 129-218.

Ivakhiy, A. (2011) ‘Cinema of the Not-Yet: The Utopia Promise of Film as Heterotopia’ Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture 5 (2).

Levitas, R. (2003) ‘Utopia Here and Now’ in S. Meyer (ed.) Midlertidige Utopier [Temporary Utopia] Oslo: Museum of Contemporary Art, 142-148.

Lvakhiv, A. (2011) ‘Cinema of the Not-Yet: The Utopian Promise of Film as Heterotopia’. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture 5 (2) 186-209.

Maggini, G. (2017) ‘Digital Virtual Places: Utopias, Atopias, Heterotopias’ in Janz, B. (ed.) Place, Space and Hermeneutics. Berlin: Springer International.  465-477.

Mao, Wei-qiang. (2009) ‘Heterotopia as an alternative to Utopia – the narrative space in The Glass Mountain’ US-China Foreign Language. 7: 10 61-64

Meyer, S.  (2003) Midlertidige Utopier [Temporary Utopia] Oslo: Museum of Contemporary Art.

Morgan, D. (2014) ‘”The Floating Asylum”, The Armée du salut and Le Corbusier: A Modernist Heterotopian/Utopian Project’, Utopian Studies 25 (1) 87-124

Nigam, A. (2010) ‘The Heterotopias of Dalit Politics: Becoming-Subject and the Consumption Utopia’ in Utopia/Dystopia: Conditions of Historical Possibility. Eds. D. Gordin, H. Tilley, and G. Prakash. Princeton: Princeton, University Press 250-276.

Otto, M. (2005) ‘The other Side of the Mirror: Utopian and Heterotopia space in Kamau Brathwaite’s “Dream Stories” Utopian Studies 16 (1) 27-44.

Ouyang, W. C.  (2012) ‘Utopias, Dystopias and Heterotopias: The Spatiality of Human Experience and Literary ExpressionMiddle Eastern Literatures. 15 (3) 227-231.

Somay, B. and R. M. P. (1984) ‘Open-ended Utopia (Vers une utopi ouverte)’, Science Fiction Studies 11 (1) 25-38.

Turner, C. (2015) Dramaturgy and Architecture: Theatre, Utopia and the Built Environment, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Willke, H.  (2003) Heterotopia. Studien zur Krisis der Ordnung moderner Gesellschaften. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag. (part of a series of three books: Atopia (2001), Dystopia (2002), Heterotopia (2003).


2. Images of utopia/heterotopia


Protest occupations
Protest occupations


Gardens - utopia or heterotopia?
Gardens – utopia or heterotopia?
Illustration to Charles Fourier’s (1772-1837) Social Utopia: View of Phalansterium.’


Boys at Mettray Penal Colony – utopia or heterotopia?





A panopticon – utopia or heterotopia?
The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre
Derelict utopia?
Derelict utopia?
Abandoned utopia? photograph by Vincent J Stoker
Abandoned utopia? photograph by Vincent J Stoker



Jesuit Colony - Church in Paraguay
Jesuit Colony – Church in Paraguay



Swimming baths turned into art gallery - Roubaix, France.
Swimming baths turned into art gallery – Roubaix, France.


Festivals - utopia or heterotopia?
Festivals – utopia or heterotopia?

revised July 2018

1 Comment

  1. Peter Johnson
    July 20, 2018 @ 10:14 am

    For more on utopia see ‘Utopian Studies’ journal:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *