CfP: Utopia and the legal imagination

by | 6 Jul 2021

Utopias and utopian thinking can often be seen as an exercise in dreaming; the unrealistic imagining of an impossible society. In the thinking behind laws and legal systems, there is an underpinned imagining of ideal worlds. Drawing from the work of Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas and Martha Merrill Umphrey in the collection Law and the Utopian Imagination, as well as Davina Cooper’s Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces, and Ruth Levitas’s Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society, this forum encourages participants to consider how legal scholars invoke law in the pursuit of utopia. The contemporary scholarship mentioned here considers the utopian as an ethos or process, the ‘desire for being otherwise,’  ‘oriented to the hope, desire and belief in the possibility of other, better worlds.’  In shaping our boundaries, minimums and maximums, crimes and punishments, what utopian visions are we containing or pursuing?

Melbourne Doctoral Forum on Legal Theory:

Online/Virtual Event: Monday 22 and Tuesday 23 November 2021

We invite submission on themes such as (but not limited to):

  1. Rethinking utopiaIs the time ripe to revisit the role of utopia in legal imagination? Have recent global events, and technological and scientific developments, changed how we might imagine utopia, or helped us reframe how we want to build our futures? Should we resist attempts to revive utopian thought in legal theory?
  2. Space, place and timeHow do we grapple with the geographic and temporal boundaries of imagined worlds? How do we connect space, place, and understandings of the law?
  3. Imagining utopiaHow do legal scholars imagine utopia? How does a legal imagining place itself and how is it informed by other disciplines? How does it incorporate ideas of citizenship, governance, work, indigeneity, disability, or the non-human? How is legal imagination distributed? What are the ethical implications of thinking about futures?
  4. Framing utopiaHow does the imagination of utopia shape approaches to legal scholarship? Is utopia an outcome, a process, or a method? Is its pursuit an inescapable part of the legal project? How does the law seek to create or engage with ideal worlds?
  5. Ustopia5Are there competing utopias, or dystopias contained within utopias?In practice, what kind of dysfunction, injustice, and forms of violence has the legal imagination created, or what dystopias does it have to grapple with? What is the inverse of an ideal world, and does building a utopia contain contradictions, or always contain some element of dystopia?

3Ruth Levitas, Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) xi.

4Davina Cooper, Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces (Duke University Press, 2014) 3.

5Margaret Atwood. (2011). ‘Margaret Atwood: the road to Ustopia.’ The Guardian. Available at:


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