Urban and Environmental Justice in “Sybaris and Other Homes”

Speaking today at the conference “Nineteenth Century Studies and Visions of the Future” (Helsinki, 26.1.2018) on one of my favorite books – the little known utopian novel Sybaris and other homes by Edward E. Hale. I wrote at length about its utopian features in my 2016 article “Cities Utopian, Dystopian and Apocalyptic” (Palgrave Handbook of Literature and the City) – today I’ll speak specifically about the ways in which it frames urban and environmental justice.


Towards a Future in Balance: Utopian Visions of Urban and Environmental Justice in Edward E. Hale’s Sybaris and Other Homes (1869)

Lieven Ameel

In the little-known utopian text “My Visit to Sybaris”, in Edward E. Hale’s Sybaris and Other Homes (1869), the protagonist finds himself unexpectedly in an Italian-Greek city preserved from antiquity, whose inhabitants combine highly developed technology with ancient legal practices. The text’s concerns range from the problematics of urban housing and financial reform to urban and suburban planning. A particularly intriguing concept is that of “harpagmos”, a verdict passed for a crime when someone “has taken from a citizen what he cannot restore” (Hale 52). The crime includes the stealing of time, echoing contemporary discussions about labour and currency reform. There are interesting ecological dimensions, too, since the verdict of “harpagmos” can be passed for disturbing the natural and ecological harmony. In this respect, “Sybaris” prefigures later utopian/dystopian accounts concerned with ecological catastrophes. In my presentation, I will examine “My Visit to Sybaris” in its context of nineteenth-century utopian literature, with a particular interest in the environmental undercurrents in the text. My approach is further informed by a concern with how the paratextual elements of the text, its various time frames, as well as the intertextual references (including numerous references to texts from Antiquity) point to particular readings of the text.




Welcome to the SELMA seminar “INTERSECTIONS OF NARRATIVE STUDIES AND URBAN STUDIES”, where I will present ongoing research projects together with Jason Finch, with whom we’ve had a number of inspiring collaborations in the field of literary urban studies so far.

I’ll present my new research project, Jason will be speaking of mediations and representations of mass housing.

More information here.

18. JANUARY, 14.00-16.00, E325 (Minerva, Kaivokatu 12)
Jason FINCH: “Mediations and Representations of Mass Housing: Visions versus Phenomenologies?”
Lieven AMEEL: “Narrating Urban Futures: Cities at the Water in Fictional and Non-fictional Texts.”

A vital dimension of contemporary literary studies is increased engagement with real-world issues such as social policy and planning. Practitioners including urban historians and policy-makers gain understanding of aspects of human experience not readily available otherwise in collaboration with literary scholars. Also, techniques originating in literary studies can be used productively to read texts not conventionally labelled literary, including municipal plans and oral histories preserved in archives. On 18 January, SELMA presents two speakers with links to the Centre who work in this interdisciplinary area, and on the frontier dividing academic and extra-academic social analysis. Lieven Ameel and Jason Finch are founder members of the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS), the most recent international conference of which was ‘(Im)Possible Cities’ (University of Tampere, 2017). They have jointly edited two volumes arising from the work of the Association and are editors of the Palgrave series Literary Urban Studies (http://www.springer.com/series/15888).

Starting a new project at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies!

Excited to embark on a new research project at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, with an affiliation at comparative literature, University of Turku. In this three- year project, I will examine narratives of urban futures, with a specific focus on how the (near) future of cities at the water is negotiated in different textual genres, including literary fiction, future scenarios, and urban planning and policy documents. One of the key issues is the hypothesis that different narrative genres have different abilities (and different limitations) in how they can posit personal and communal choice and agency. At the background of this project is the notion that the stories we tell of the future are in large part responsible for how we see our own possibilities of action towards a possible future.

In this research project, I will focus on Helsinki, New York City, and urban futures in the Low Countries, in the period 1990-2030.

More information here.

If you would like to collaborate or want to hear more, please contact me at lieven.ameel [a] utu.fi – I’m interested in hearing more from other people (academics, policy makers, media) working with similar issues!