What do you want the world to be like in the future? Utopian ethnography in the crisis-ordinary of late 2010s Patra, Greece

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis proposes that utopian desires are part of the social world and are of interest to anthropology. It examines the desires for the future of the world of four groups of informants living in Patras, the third largest city in Greece, in 2018-19: the municipality, ran by the Greek Communist Party (KKE); an art and music school ran by the KKE's youth wing (the KNE); a soup kitchen ran by a Greek Orthodox church; and a cultural organisation called the Anti-Complacent Association of Dreamers of Now (AADN). The utopian desires of these four distinct groups were of interest in themselves; and attention to utopian desire, as an ethnographic method, enabled a description of the felt contours of the historical moment in Patras in 2018-19. First, the thesis outlines utopian ethnography. It situates utopianism in the (scant) anthropological literature on utopianism and (substantial) anthropological literature on hope and the future. It defines 'utopia,' 'utopianism' and other key terms with reference to current literature in utopian studies, and elaborates the theoretical basis for utopian ethnography. The thesis then considers utopian ethnographic refusal: total absences of utopian desire, and desires for destruction. The discussion then moves on to utopian desire for the past, in the form of nostalgia for the lost future of Soviet Greece, for the bucolic 1960s, and for the lost moment of an imaginary neighbourhood in Patras' suburbs. After this, the thesis explores frustrated utopian desires tangled in the limits of possibility: frustrated attempts to build a better world through voluntary action and municipal governance, and frustrating investments in the state and the family. Finally, the discussion turns to my informants' concerted programs for world-building with their world-desires: transforming the self, building togetherness with others, and making music. The final section also considers the KKE's ambivalently revolutionary program of local governance, and the relationship between solidarity and the official Program of the KKE. The utopian focus of the thesis connects desire, emotion, agency and history. It attends to how things felt and what people wanted in a particular place at a specific time: Patras in the late 2010s, in the wake of ten years of austerity and the bitter disappointment of both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary resistance struggles. It looks at what people did with their feelings about how things were and desires for how things could be, at the level of the social world, according to their assessment of the historical moment and the possibilities they had to hand.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStefaan Jansen (Supervisor) & Nicholas Thoburn (Supervisor)


  • future
  • crisis
  • Patras
  • Greece
  • desire
  • utopianism
  • utopia
  • prefiguration

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