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Once upon a time in Utopia: Bergson, temporality and the remaking of social movement futures


In this article, I focus on utopian social movements and how their members are increasingly seeking to exit from what I term, after Raymond Williams, a subjunctive grammar of transformation. Analysing a Marxist social movement in Brazil, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), and placing my ethnography in dialogue with the conceptual philosophical framework of Henri Bergson, I argue that such movements have a special relationship with utopia, inscribing a contradiction that is characteristic to the mode of willed transformation: the very impossibility of distant objectives becomes the justification for striving ever harder in perpetual struggle; for the MST, programmes of movement massification and the maintenance of a unified front are the inevitable and necessary conditions to create a new society. This teleological impetus is normative and regulatory in character and is resolutely premised on a linear understanding of time. Recognising that the occupation of land is central to MST practice, I question how change might occur through a disaggregation of space and time; how the unexpected and unforeseen might arise despite mechanisms designed to engender continuity; how in each moment, there is the latent potential to inscribe – in a creative gesture – a future as yet uninscribed of meaning and being.

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