6 Oct 2008, 3:21pm

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What do our dreams and fears tell us about ourselves?

As the fundamental question guiding our research efforts, this suggestive question connects utopian and dystopian ideas with the tangible messiness of the actuality of our everyday world. Do our dreams and fears describe an interior landscape, a topography of the contemporary human psyche? Or do such anxieties and anticipations reflect the world around us, mirroring the problems and promises that confront us? The answer, of course, is both. Our utopias and dystopias offer an imaginative response to the complexities of late-modern life and map out possible futures for us to explore. The emphasis placed here on “mapping” should come as no surprise: the hopes and fears that shape these imaginary landscapes are themselves situated within the larger terrain of human environments. It makes good sense to interpret contemporary American expressions of hope and fear as ways of charting possible courses through the joys and difficulties of human existence in a petroleum-fueled era of consumerism and virtuality. This approach, however, easily falls prey to the argument that “the map is not the territory,” in other words, that utopian and dystopian sentiments are a representational reflection of where we stand and not, in fact, the place we actually stand.

Thus, in Ecotopia Revisited, we complement the assertion that our dreams and fears tell us about where we think we are with a firm commitment to the view that hopes and dreams have a profound ability to remake the world in which we live. Just as the actual complexities of contemporary life shape the terrain of our imagination, so too do the landscapes of our imagination shape the world we live in today and its future.

Better understanding the co-creation of our imaginary landscapes—both utopian and dystopian—and the actual landscapes of daily life (physical, social, political, and environmental) is an important element of our research effort. Emphasis on questions of global, regional, and local scales helps us look carefully at the ways modern Americans (a.k.a. Oregonians) survey the terrain around and before them.

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