Thomas Reid’s ‘civilised controversy’: sociology of Utopia in the Scottish Enlightenment

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


    Norbert Elias outlined three tasks for the sociological study of utopia. First, utopian fantasy images are a means to reconstruct the tensions, dilemmas and conflicts that were felt to be particularly acute at an earlier phase of the civilising process. Second, utopias provide ideal anticipatory solutions, desired or feared, possible or improbable, to such tension problems. Third, the oral or written communicability of fantasy images anticipates an audience, from small intimate circles to anonymous publics, capable of comprehending the utopian discursive form. The 1794 utopian scheme outlined by Thomas Reid, leading thinker of the Scottish Enlightenment, is examined in terms of Elias’s sociology of utopia as a form of what he called ‘civilised controversy’. Reid’s utopia addressed the communicability of tension problems, fantasy solutions, and audience and field in threating conditions of repressive British reaction to the French Revolution. Reid’s utopia was neither a necessary consequence of prevailing intellectual
    preconditions of social milieu nor an unrealistic fantasy image divorced from emergent social tensions. From More to Reid down to the present Elias’s utopia of ‘civilised controversy’ of democratic debate and expert judgement has been continually postponed by the short-term horizons of ‘reality-blind’ political, corporate and opinion leaders.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2018
    Event2018 Elias conference Brussels - Université Saint-Louis , Brussels, Belgium
    Duration: 5 Dec 20188 Dec 2018


    Conference2018 Elias conference Brussels
    Internet address


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