Latin American Utopian Visions: A Critical Look for the 21st Century

19 April 2013 - 20 April 2013

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT


Sandra Brunnegger (Department of Social Anthropology / St Edmund's College)

Karen Ann Faulk (Carnegie Mellon University) 

Conference Summary

This conference seeks to bring together recent scholarship on how utopian visions have shaped Latin America throughout its history.  Uniting work from across and between disciplinary boundaries, the conference looks to explore the history, construction, contexts, and effects of imagined utopias, as well as, and crucially, the interrelations between them.  From its inception as an ideologically constituted unit born of the colonial encounter, Latin America has been a subject and producer of idealized imaginaries of universal order and humanity’s place within it.  Its relegation to Europe’s ‘savage slot’ (Trouillot 2003) and the projections of European escapist fantasies onto its terrain was a fundamental determinant of colonial policy for several hundred years.  In exploring a range of utopian visions, from the lasting allure of communist revolution to the idealist programs that directed modernism’s drive to develop, this conference explores the multifarious ways in which Latin America has served as the landscape upon which utopian ideas have been imagined, designed, and attempted.  Furthermore, in bringing together a diverse set of scholarship, the conference aims to excavate the complex entanglements and overlaps between seemingly contradictory but inherently intertwined elements of different utopias.  Fundamentally, the conference seeks to serve as a forum for productive discussion and debate of the nature and potential in contemporary utopian visions, or in what Fernando Coronil has described as “the present-day future imaginary” (2010).  




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS) and the Centre of Latin American Studies (CLAS), University of Cambridge.

Accommodation for non-paper giving delegates


We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.


Administrative assistance:

Latin American Visions Programme

Location : CRASSH, Alison Richards building - SG1&2

Date : 18-20 April 2013

18 April



Film Screening: Unfinished Spaces - Free and open to all

Unfinished Spaces is an 86-minute documentary that spotlights the troubled trajectory of Cuba's ambitious and beautiful National Art Schools project.  The Schools were designed by three young artists in the wake of Castro's revolution--but have been neglected and nearly forgotten in the ensuing decades. The film explores the Cuban Revolution and its influence on the Schools' construction, and even more poignantly, traces the way the Schools shaped the identities and careers of the architects who envisioned them.  As the film unfolds and we are brought up to the present, we also see the promise and the challenge of historic conservation in Cuba, and are introduced to nascent efforts to preserve the magnificent schools and the utopian dream they represented before they are lost to ruin.



19 April


8.45 - 9.15


9.15 - 9.30

Welcome and Introduction

 9.30 - 11.00

Panel 1: Utopia and the Colonial Encounter

  • Isabel Yaya (School of Advanced Study, University of London): "I rise, and it is not for myself": Visions of the Inca Empire in the British and French Press of the 18th Century
  • Richard Weiner (Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne): Utopian Visions of Mexican Grandeur Rooted in Natural Abundance: Dreams Inspired by Alexander von Humboldt's "Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain"
  • Christian Fernández Palacios (Louisiana State University): Revisiting Inca Garcilaso's Utopian and Dystopian Discourse in the "Royal Commentaries"

Discussant: Gabriela Ramos (University of Cambridge)

11.00 - 11.30

Tea and Coffee

11.30 - 12.40

Panel 2: Utopian Sciences

  • Miguel Ángel Ramiro Avilés (Alcalá University): Una Colombia imaginada
  • Joanna Page (University of Cambridge): From Microscopes to Martians: Science and Fantasy in Holmberg's Utopian Narratives

Discussant: Rory O'Bryen (University of Cambridge)

12.40 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.30

Panel 3: Revolutionary Utopianism

  • Enrique Gómez Llata Cázares (Universidad de las Américas Puebla): A Critique to Utopian Reason and the Past and Future of Latin America: Mexico and Cuba in Perspective 
  • Matt Wilde (London School of Economics and Political Science): Utopian "Formación" in Bolivian Venezuela: An Ethnography of Political Subjectivity
  • Maria A Cabrera Arus (New School for Social Research):  The Utopia of Socialist Modernity in Late-Twentieth Century Cuba: A Material Culture Perspective

 Discussant: Sian Lazar (University of Cambridge)

15.30 - 16.00

Tea and Coffee

16.00 - 17.00

Keynote Address

  • Deborah Poole (Johns Hopkins University): Territories of Law and Desire: Rescaling Utopia in the Neoliberal State


Dinner at Sidney Sussex College




20 April


9.00 - 10.10

Panel 4: Utopian Modernities and Urban Planning

  • Austin Zeiderman (London School of Economics and Political Science): Threatened Cities: Urban Dystopias in Latin America, Past and Present 
  • Adriana Laura Massidda (University of Cambridge): Utopian Visions for Buenos Aires Shantytowns: From the City-Without-Shantytowns to Universal Social Housing and Participatory Design

Discussant: Marta Magalhães (University of Cambridge)

10.10 - 10.30

Tea and Coffee

10.30 - 11.40

Panel 5: Utopia and Human Rights

  • Johannes Waldmüller (The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva / University of Vienna): Conflicting Visions of Justice and their Scripts: Challenging Human Rights and Human Development Utopias in Ecuador
  • Camilo Pérez Bustillo and Karla Hernández-Mares (Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México): Human Rights, Hegemony, and Utopia in Contemporary Latin America: Mexico's Zapatistas and Equivalent Movements elsewhere in the Region

Discussant: Noa Vaisman (Durham University)

11.40 - 12.50

Panel 6: Utopian Poetics

  • Cornelia Gräbner (Lancaster University): Critical Utopias, Committed Writing, and the Poetic Word
  • Juan G. Ramos (College of the Holy Cross): Poetic Imaginaries and the Utopian Present

Discussant: Geoffrey Kantaris (University of Cambridge)

12.50 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.00

Keynote Address

  • Walter Mignolo (Duke University): Latin' America at the Cross-Road: Rewesternization, Dewesternization and Decoloniality

15.00 - 15.20

Tea and Coffee

15.20 - 16.50

Panel 7: Utopia and Indigeneity

  • Victor Cova (University of St. Andrews): A Conflict of Utopias: 1989 in Macuma, between Indigeneity and Evangelicalism
  • Zac Zimmer (Virginia Tech): Andrean Utopians: Inca, Tahuantinsuyo, Buen vivir
  • Jason Pribilsky (Whitman College): From Planned Change to Patchakutik: Cold War Modernization and Indigenous Development in Vicos, 1952-2012

Discussant: Barbara Bodenhorn (University of Cambridge)

16.50 - 17.00

Closing remarks