Beyond Utopia

New Politics, the Politics of Knowledge, and the Science Fictional Field of Japan

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Beyond Utopia is a so-called 'VICI' research project funded by the NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). The project focusses on exploring visual and interactive media in contemporary Japan and investigates their intersections with political philosophy.
The project started in 2010 and is expected to end in 2015. It is hosted by the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS)


Recognizing that, since the end of the Cold War, political theorists around the world have embarked upon a deliberate quest for difference and innovation in their discipline, triggered by the apparently ‘world historic’ victory of liberal capitalism, this project aims to uncover a series of sites of difference and innovation. In particular, it locates itself in two kinds of distancing: geo-cultural (ie. in the non-European space of Japan) and medial (ie. in innovative expressive media). Utilizing the ‘techno-media’ of anime, manga and video games, and focusing on the radical potentials of the genre of speculative science fiction, this project aims to analyze and model a series of political visions as potential alternatives to liberal capitalism, hence contributing to the field of political thought.
Furthermore, acknowledging that these widely popular techno-medial products utilize different grammars of expression from conventional, text-based media, this project seeks to formulate a research methodology for scholars to employ for critical interventions into these fields. Accepting that the dimensions of the public sphere change with time and technological developments, and hypothesizing that the public sphere in many contemporary societies is now informed by this techno-politics, at stake is the ability of scholars to remain in touch with (and persuasive in) political realities: new forms of literacy are required if scholars seek to remain involved in the new public sphere. This project attempts to outline those forms of literacy, as implied by the rapidly globalizing force of Japanese anime, manga and video games.

critique and intervention

An implication of this research agenda is that anime, manga and video games have identifiable grammars that enable them as expressive media, and that these grammars and devices actually facilitate the development and deployment of political thought in ways inexpressible (or even unthinkable) in other media.
Taking this seriously demands twin responses from the scholarly community:

  • the first is critique - we must employ literacy in these grammars and skill-sets to affect sophisticated political criticism of these media;
  • and the second is participatory - as responsible intellectuals, we must be able to employ these grammars and skill sets to intervene in political arguments and the public sphere ourselves.

Hence, in addition to conventional research products (three PhD theses and two monographs), this project also aims to produce a series of political manga, short anime, and a simple video game expressive of political concepts from Japanese science fiction.

framing the project

This project locates itself at the intersection of a number of pressing issues for contemporary society, and simultaneously in an interdisciplinary and multi-medial space between several academic fields of inquiry. In its most general form, the central thread of the interlinked sub projects is concerned with the matrix of relationships between evolving conceptions of politics, literacy and technology (particularly digital technology). In each case, first and foremost, the concern is with the way in which these shifting categories interact with, challenge, and actually constitute the ‘humanity’ of individuals in contemporary society and the way in which they interact politically.

project members

Project director &
Principal researcher
Professor dr. Chris Goto-Jones

PostDoc &
Secondary supervisor

Dr. Florian Schneider
Project manager

Esther Truijen, MA
PhD candidates

Carl K. Li, MA
Subproject: Manga

Mari Nakamura, MA
Subproject: Anime

Martin Roth, MA
Subproject: Videogames


Over a period of 5 years (2010-2014) the Beyond Utopia project will deliver a number of exciting products and events ranging from manga competitions, videogames surveys and online exhibitions to workshops, digital media conferences, educational textbooks and several theses.
arts + politics
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One of the Beyond Utopia's spin off projects is the The Political & Philosophical Arts Initiative.
Following the founding of Leiden University College The Hague in 2010, there was an exciting opportunity to institutionalize Beyond Utopia's innovative research trajectory in political arts as part of the progressive, liberal arts curriculum of the college. The Political & Philosophical Arts Initiative (PAI) is interested in the ways in which people interact with and compose political and philosophical ideas and actions through the various, diverse media of technology and the arts. Participants in PAI seek to explore the ways in which poetry, literature, music, photography, performance and other creative arts interleave with the political and philosophical life, either as vehicles for criticism, elaboration, theorization, intervention or activism.
The Beyond Utopia project is based at Leiden University's Institute for Area Studies and is made possible through the generosity and support of:
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