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Alternative Modernity: Utopian Socialist Practice During the Fin de Siècle

Michelle D Tiedje, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation examines the intellectual and cultural origins of utopian socialist practice during the fin de siècle, or end of the nineteenth century. Hundreds of intentional experiments in community were created throughout the industrializing West at the turn of the twentieth century, a historical moment many reform-minded men and women interpreted as uniquely malleable and potentially transformative. Utopian socialist communities emerged alongside a wave of other responses to the rise of modern industrial capitalism and were the predominant type of intentional communities created during the period. The leaders, members, and many of the supporters of these communities believed utopian practice was a more effective reform methodology than political activism or traditional social reform. Through their practice, these men and women not only participated in the utopian tradition; they also contributed to broader transnational debates about capitalism, socialism, and the future values of the modern industrial world. This dissertation utilizes social theory from the interdisciplinary field of Utopian Studies to interrogate the relationship between the historical context of the fin de siècle and the development of utopian socialist theory and practice. It focuses on two examples of utopian socialist communities founded in Latin America by white Westerners: the Topolobampo Colony, established by American Albert Kimsey Owen in Sinaloa, Mexico in 1886 and the New Australia Colony, established by British-born William Lane near Asunción, Paraguay in 1893. Owen and Lane are both examples of utopian socialists who took advantage of the benefits Mexico and Paraguay’s immigration and colonization programs granted whites from wealthy, industrialized nations at the turn of the twentieth century. Owen’s theory of Integral Co-operation and Lane’s bush socialism, while distinct forms of utopian socialism, were also deeply connected to transnational debates about the efficacy of utopian socialist practice versus traditional reform work, social democratic activism, the scientific or orthodox socialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and the ethical socialism presented in popular utopian socialist literature of the day. These connections reveal the history of utopian socialist thought and practice is an integral part of the intellectual and cultural history of the Gilded Age and early Progressive Era.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Tiedje, Michelle D, "Alternative Modernity: Utopian Socialist Practice During the Fin de Siècle" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10682978.