‘I want to do it myself together.’

— Giorgio, child of my friend Caterina, to his mother.

My student Marina sat in the office I share with colleagues at my small Italian university. She had just told me she wanted to write her BA dissertation about Egyptian Science Fiction. I could perceive her enthusiasm and motivation. The topic interests me deeply, as she knew, since I had written a PhD dissertation on the closely related Arabic tradition of utopian writing. She smiled shyly. I noticed the spark of curiosity in her eyes.

Now Marina has graduated with distinction. She is attending my MA course on Arabic utopian writing and Science Fiction, where I am using research by my friend and colleague Ada Barbaro and my own. In class, we discuss selected texts and how they relate to their social, cultural and political background, not unlike Marina has strived to do in her dissertation. It is on that course that we discussed some of the ideas sketched here.

‘Utopia’ is a ‘western’ word, coined by Sir Thomas More in 1516, from Greek roots in a Latin book. The concept it underlies has been long regarded as a matter of the West, and modernity. This increasingly outmoded view implies that pre-modern societies, stuck in tradition, are seldom able to question the extant social order and challenge it organically; trapped in the assumption that hierarchies and rules are divinely ordained or otherwise grounded in a transcendent dimension.

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