A Road of One's Own: On the Roles of Mobilities in Feminist Utopian Writings
Dries, Iona van den
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A key to utopia’s relevance and fascination lies in its dual function as critique of society and hopeful imagining of alternatives, as well as the question of how one might reach an unreachable ideal. From this starting point, my thesis combines insights and concepts from utopian, feminist, and mobilities studies with approaches from comparative literature to investigate the role(s) of mobilities in feminist utopian writings. My case studies include the short story “Sultana’s Dream” (1905) and novella Padmarag (1924) by Bengali author Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932) and the novel Iola Leroy (1893) and two speeches, “We Are All Bound Up Together” (1866) and “Woman’s Political Future” (1893), by American author Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911). By combining flexible definitions of utopia and utopianism with an intersectional, comparative view on feminism, and distinguishing various types of mobility and their relations, I discuss how Hossain and Harper each present mobilities as sites of oppression and liberation. I argue that mobilities play a vital role in their social dreaming and that mobilities serve as a productive factor for cross-cultural comparison. Feminist utopian writings allow their authors and readers to look beyond (im)possibilities in reality to envision social change. A revaluation of mobilities in these narratives—both in realistic and more utopian spaces—helps distinguish consequences of intersectional oppressions and reimagine them as sites for potential social change. Finally, the writings of Hossain and Harper play an essential role among their other practical utopian projects to communicate social critique and dreams of a better society to readers and thinkers across time and space, broadening perspectives on what is (im)possible.