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Davina Cooper, Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2014, 283 pages, $ 22.46 paper. ISBN 9780822355694.

Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces is an engrossing book that beautifully integrates deep theoretical analysis of the conceptual and material practice of utopias with a wide range of fascinating (and at first take, seeming rather eclectic) case studies. In fact, for me, this is one of Everyday Utopias' key contributions and, in doing so, the book itself is exemplary of the kind of politically engaged thinking that it traces through its various case studies. Everyday Utopias consists of a series of chapters focusing on six case studies of utopian sites, specifically, equality governance under the Blair-led Labour government in Britain, Summerhill School in Suffolk, England, Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) across the UK, Speakers’ Corner in London, a Toronto Bathhouse called Pussy Palace, and public nudism. The case studies are based on 150 interviews and textual analysis. In addition to the case studies, there is a chapter laying out the conceptual framework (chapter 2), a useful introduction to the field (chapter 1), and a succinct conclusion addressing the topic of social transformation (chapter 9).

The full title of Everyday Utopias gives a very accurate description of its contents. The book aims to show how utopias are performed in the spaces of everyday life or, in Davina Cooper’s words, how utopian spaces “work by creating the change they wish to encounter” (page 2). More generally, Everyday Utopias is concerned with broadening how we think about social transformation and where the possibilities for such transformation might lie. This may not seem like particularly new ground and this book fits well into an established body of work that looks at the forging of new worlds in the present, from utopia studies (with which Cooper engages in some depth) to diverse and community economies scholarship. Yet, as suggested by the subtitle, the main focus of Everyday Utopias is on the role of concepts in utopian innovation, and this perspective offers original insights to a range of scholarship concerned with social transformation and building new worlds. As Cooper explains in detail the second chapter, which develops her conceptual framework, scholarship on socially progressive concepts, such as freedom or equality, is often limited within the realm of thought.

Furthermore, research on utopia building tends to define alternatives in terms of that which they are against, limiting not only their creativity but also reinforcing the discursive power of that which they oppose (see also Healy, 2009). In contrast to such scholarship, what makes Everyday Utopias so interesting is Cooper’s careful tracing of conceptual change, as ideas oscillate between imagination and actualisation. Put in another way, Cooper is interested in tracing the imaginational and material process of thought through utopian innovation, which in the chapters that follow she frames in terms of “conceptual lines”. For example, in chapter four titled “Public Nudism and the Pursuit of Equality”, Cooper investigates the presence of equality in the practice of public nudism, a practice in which the discourse of equality is largely absent. Here equality emerges as a “presupposition” or “imagined animating condition”, “a form of expression constituted and conveyed by action” and a potential to be thought about and practiced in new ways (pages 77-78). In contrast, in chapter six, which focuses on LETS in the UK, Cooper shows that when utopian ideals are overtly pursued they can be compromised during processes of actualisation. In this case the ideal of community labour came into conflict with, and was in fact displaced by, other temporalities of labour time which contributed to the end of many instances of LETS in the UK. These and other case studies show the complex processes through which potentially socially transformative concepts can change during utopian experimentation.

Davina Cooper is a Professor of Law and Political Theory and Everyday Utopias draws strongly from legal studies to analyse the dynamic movement of the imagination and actualisation of concepts in utopian practice. For example, there is a strong emphasis on normative orders (particularly in relation to time) in the chapter on LETS. However, Cooper’s theoretical interests clearly extend further than legal studies as Everyday Utopias is interdisciplinary in scope, drawing from key thinkers in geography (such as the work of Doreen Massey and J.K. Gibson-Graham), philosophy (particularly but not exclusively poststructural thinkers), cultural studies/queer theory (such as the work of Eve Sedgwick), and other fields. This broadens the scope of the book and enables readers to more readily connect its key ideas to debates in other fields. While fine grained analysis is certainly one of the strengths of Everyday Utopias, I can also see how the conceptual approach offered could be applied to wider political concerns and problematics. For example, there is growing scholarly interest in role of the Enlightenment ideal of freedom in bringing about anthropogenic climate change (see for example Chakrabarty, 2009), where the pursuit of freedom has been strongly based on the use of fossil fuels. Cooper’s analysis of concepts in action offers a method with which to explore the oscillation between the ideal and actualisation of freedom and the factors shaping this process. More generally it helps us to think about potentiality of ‘failure’ in world changing experiments or projects which turn out differently from what was intended.

Davina Cooper is a well-established author and it is thus perhaps not surprising that this book is beautifully written. Yet more than this, the book is written in a way that enables and encourages wide engagement, with none of the highly dense and technical language of many poststructural texts. This makes it useful for teaching and I can imagine a graduate course based around this book. I can also imagine Cooper’s case study participants reading and engaging with this work, such as LETS organisers and advocates, who will find the discussion of the mismatch between the different temporalities at play in many LETS schemes useful for creating more successful enactments of LETS in the UK. This brings me back to one of the important contributions of this book, which is the way it works to participate in the utopian experiments it examines by fleshing out, naming and thereby helping to actualise the potentialities through which they act. Everyday Utopias offers a clear contribution to the conceptual life of world changing politics and demonstrates the important role that concepts play in social transformation more generally. References Chakrabarty D (2009) The Climate of History: Four Theses. Critical Inquiry 35 197-222.Healy S (2009) Alternative Economies. In: N Thrift and R Kitchin (eds) The International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography. Oxford: Elsevier, pp 338-44.