As you can see, this project has a sprawling and perhaps excessive agenda. To help give you a sense of structure, I have divided the analysis into two sections. Part I, “Historical Failures,” traces three genealogies of a failed utopia. Chapter 1, “Radical Philosophy After 1968,” explores the political history of the Paris 8 Philosophy Department, its unfolding forms of internal conflict and ambivalence, and its production of a left-wing pantheon of Great Men thinkers. Chapter 2, “Left Patriarchy,” traces the processes of masculine domination and women’s exclusion that have long traversed this site. Chapter 3, “The Neocolonial Bargain,” shows how the Department turned towards the international and postcolonial academic market for survival, thereby offering foreign students a cruel bargain: degrees, but no jobs. This first part of the book is significantly historical, and quite critical of its site. It proposes that disappointed utopianism emerged from a history of political defeat and unresolved contradictions.
Meanwhile, Part II, entitled “Utopia in the present,” is somewhat more affirmative in its analyses. It shows how ambivalent subjects lived in a failed utopian site, looking at scenes of social reproduction (Chapter 4), intellectual production (Chapter 5), and utopian politics (Chapter 6). It contrasts three forms of ongoingness in a fraught lifeworld: banlieue dwelling, ritualized “thinking,” and utopian protest. Chapter 4, “A Banlieue University,” explores the racialized production of campus and departmental space. It aims to show that everyday life was a space in which the relations of social reproduction were actively contested. Chapter 5, “Thought in Motion,” explores scenes of philosophers doing their major professional activity, “thinking.” It follows them across France on a train, observes them at a conference, and then watches them go home. Finally, Chapter 6, “Whose Utopia is This?” returns to Saint-Denis to scrutinize the production of a utopian philosophical manifesto. It shows how this manifesto was produced not by a definite “utopian subject,” but through a conflictual encounter between diverse social subjects. It suggests that such utopian interventions are not diminished by their antagonistic origins and disappointing results, since through them, collective habits of radicality endure.
Finally, a brief Afterward tries to ask: What does disappointed utopianism teach us?
That is the plan, at least. Before we go farther, let us glimpse what everyday life looked like in this site. Has any theory ever emerged unscathed from its encounters with ordinariness?