Natalya Bekhta

Global crises fuel the search for a better future: Is Utopia the answer?

Utopia in all its forms is intrinsic to how our age thinks about the present and beyond. From the study of “futurity” and the search for “real utopias” in sociology and political economy to the popularity of fantastic, apocalyptic and dystopian fictions in TV series, film and literature, a search for a better world is a key concern of recent times, says Natalya Bekhta from Tampere University.

When it comes to the social imaginary and alternative futures, the 1990s was a watershed moment. The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been interpreted as an end of actually existing alternatives to capitalism. Thirty years later, global crises continue to fuel a search across disciplines for more sustainable and egalitarian versions of the future with an increasing number of research projects, popular publications and artistic contributions.

At Tampere University, Natalya Bekhta’s work is situated within the cultural landscape of such debates. By uniting Utopia, literatures of the post-1990s Europe and current theories of “world literature”, her aim is to create new terrain for the futural discussion as well as for the development of contemporary cultural and literary theory. For the next two years, Bekhta will be occupying the post of Senior Research Fellow at the Tampere Institute for Advanced Study.

The call to “be realistic” often silence ideas about the future

Increasingly, we hear calls to be realistic when radical solutions are proposed to difficult problems, such as the climate crisis or putting pressure on Russia to end its war on Ukraine. According to Bekhta, such calls for realism are masking a conservative position or a desire to keep the status quo.

– Literary expression of Utopia is not limited to stories set in the future. In a philosophical sense, Utopia is a particular structure of thinking and an instrument of critique of certain types of realism, which are indistinguishable from conservatism, Natalya Bekhta explains.

Various regions of the globe are geopolitically invisible in scholarly debates about the future

Bekhta’s current work focuses on utopian imagination in Central and Eastern Europe, which she sees as a world-literary region capable of reinvigorating the ongoing discussions about the future across various sciences.

– Besides my thematic interest in Utopia, I’m developing a comparative model of the international literary field that would be able to incorporate this region of Europe as a world-literary region in its own right. Central and Eastern-European literary cultures do not fit into the “Western canon” but they are European. So how do we talk about “European” literature without talking about “Western” literature? Bekhta asks.

With a new Cold War and a renewed Russian imperialism becoming a reality for many in Europe, it is high time to incorporate the literary cultures of this region into the world-literary geography and into the cross-disciplinary discussion of global futures.

Keywords: world literature, world-systems theory, narrative, narratology, literature, literary culture, Ukraine, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Tampere University, Tampere Institute for Advanced Study