Accepted Paper:

Remember this: mobilising utopian imaginings in a social club in Northern England  


Jessica Symons (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how utopian aspirations in governance policy encourage intermediaries to continuously re-present their activities in new forms. Fieldwork in Northern England shows how an artist used utopian expectations to mobilise funding. 'Mini-me' utopias are a welcome alternative.

Paper long abstract:

The Lads Club in Northern England was established by two brothers in 1900s. They were brewery owners who wanted somewhere for the workers and their children to socialise. The Club became the centre of the community providing social support, work references and sporting opportunities for generations. After a period of decline, the club was revived by an artist inspired by its rich heritage and comprehensive archive.

This paper contemplates how an art practitioner accessed different 'pots of funding' by connecting the club's activities to the utopian aspirations of influential cultural intermediaries. In particular it considers how the British funding regime shapes how people engage with their cultural heritage. It argues that utopian aspirations to empower local people, to celebrate cultural activities, to control how people do culture are distorting people's self-expressive forms.

The paper also suggests that the inspiration motivating anti-austerity narratives comes from grand utopian visions turned inward. People are developing ideals of self and seeking out communities of interest in solidarity to take action on issues that concern or threaten their identities. These alternative 'mini-me' utopias result in similar ambiguities to the overarching utopian notion of what it is to be 'European'. However, they also provide a way out of top down, command and control governance structures.

Panel P008
Realism, imaginary, and ambivalences of utopia