Ohio Wesleyan University professor Mark Allison, Ph.D., will discuss “Karl Marx’s English Utopia” when he presents the 2021-2022 Benjamin T. Spencer Lecture sponsored by the OWU Department of English.
A member of the Ohio Wesleyan faculty since 2007, Allison will speak at 4:10 p.m. Oct. 27 in the Bayley Room inside Beeghly Library, 43 Rowland Ave., Delaware. Admission is free, and facial coverings are required regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.
Allison, associate professor of English, specializes in the literature and culture of 19th-century Britain. His research interests include utopian literature and theory; socialism, working-class political culture, and Marxism; and the British novel.
His recently published book, “Imagining Socialism: Aesthetics, Anti-politics, and Literature in Britain, 1817-1918,” provides the basis for his upcoming presentation. The book explores the intersections of socialism and literature in the long 19th century, with special emphasis on their shared antipathy to institutional politics.
“Most people think socialism means big government and state control,” Allison said. “But all of the founders of socialism had a low opinion of politics, which they associated with partisanship, corruption, and unnecessary wars. This was especially true in Britain, which, like America, has a long history of distrusting centralized authority.
“Socialists were primarily interested in what they called ‘social’ rather than ‘political’ reform,” he continued. “They believed that, if you wanted to make society more just, you had to concentrate on sites like the workplace, the school, and the local community. By transforming the building blocks of civil society, you could foster cooperation instead of competition, leading to social harmony. In time, these reforms would diminish the scope of institutional politics, or even replace it altogether.”
Although Allison’s book discusses the 19th-century British tradition of socialism, it engages with concerns of the moment: growing economic inequality, exasperation at political polarization and gridlock, and the surprising resurgence of interest in socialism among Millennials and Generation Z.
“When I began researching this book, socialism was not on the contemporary radar,” Allison said. “Then the 2007-2008 Great Recession happened, and things began to snowball. Bernie Sanders conducted two unexpectedly popular presidential campaigns, and Jeremy Corbyn had his five-year term as Prime Minister of the UK. Newspapers began running opinion polls that show young people have more favorable opinions of socialism than capitalism. Suddenly what I thought of as a very niche subject did not seem so niche at all.”
What does Allison want readers to take from his book?
“First of all, I believe in the intrinsic value of literature and literary analysis,” he said. “The backbone of this book is the careful examination of works by great 19th-century writers, some famous, some unjustly forgotten. Beyond that, I will quote the final words of my introduction: ‘It would be folly to believe that a literary study of nineteenth-century British socialism can unlock the door to utopia. But it would be vanity to think that the struggles of so many intelligent, committed, and well-meaning men and women have nothing to teach us today.’”
Learn more about Allison and Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of English at www.owu.edu/English.
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