The Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies was established at the University of Limerick in 2003 to pursue innovative research across disciplines on utopian thought and practice. The Centre’s research and service agenda is based on the premise that social values, policies, and practices are shaped by hopeful, utopian visions, and that this dimension is critical to the betterment of life for all members of society.
Far from a static, ‘perfect’ and allegedly unrealisable proposition, Ralahine promotes an understanding of the utopian as both a social reality and a critically important way of envisioning change. The ‘political unconscious’ (F. Jameson) of a society is utopian insofar as it expresses collective desires for better values and practices. Ralahine is committed to the exploration of this practical insight, both historically and with respect to our common future.
The research carried out by the faculty and postgraduate members of the Centre identifies and studies both utopian visions and utopian-informed methods and practices as articulated through a wide variety of texts (literary, legal, political, theological, filmic, visual, musical, architectural, and others) and social experiences (such as religious and secular intentional communities, political movements, artistic performances and various other cultural practices). While the Centre encourages research in all aspects of utopianism, it has a particular commitment to the study of utopianism in Irish culture and to developing our understanding of utopia as a method of social and cultural critique and transformation.
Given this radically inclusive body of concerns, Ralahine enjoys collaborative and facilitative relationships with a wide range of researchers, practitioners and groupings within and beyond the University. The activities of the Centre include individual and collaborative research by faculty, postgraduate students, and visiting scholars; postgraduate degree study at the Masters and Doctoral levels; the Ralahine Utopian Studies book series with Peter Lang; regular Ralahine Utopian Studies Workshops, and other seminars and research events, including three major international conferences.
Following Ernst Bloch I believe of course that utopian alternatives must be accompanied by a praxis that is envisaged and I suggest that it must be one that is applicable within, and in the context of, institutions. I do not claim a space for abstract grand theory at the cost of middle range theories or policies that have immediate or short term application. The concept of utopia is being recovered in such intellectual work such as that of Ruth Levitas and others and the insistence of Ernst Bloch that utopianism not only involves a rejection of what is, and a hope for an alternative, but also a strategy for its implementation is central to the new writing such as that of the scholars in the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies at the University of Limerick.