Crime and Utopia: Socialist and Anarchist Projections in Britain, 1870-1914

Jonathan Baldwin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the meeting between the conceptualisations of crime and the varied formations of utopian projections in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century socialist discourse in Britain. Beginning with a survey of the epochal explosion of literary socialist utopias and their dystopian counterpart, I scrutinise how ideas on anti-sociality, deviance, and immorality interacted with imaginations of fundamental social reorganisation. These imaginary places allowed for profoundly different approaches to the matter of crime and its prevention, and the measures found therein could edge past the bounds of possibility in the author’s time, beyond both the practical and ethical. Such radical approaches to crime would be satirised and criticised in the anti-socialist dystopia, which are also analysed. I then contend with the thought of four figures occupying prominent positions in the British socialist scene, each of whom directed considerable attention to criminological enquiry. H. G. Wells, Havelock Ellis, Peter Kropotkin, and Edward Carpenter addressed the matters of the criminalisation of the poor, moral degeneracy, and repressive Victorian mores in their distinct critiques of the sociopolitical order. In their thought, as in the literary utopias/dystopias, I bring to light how the treatment of crime in socialist imaginations of reorganised society was fraught with paradoxical problematics. On the one hand, though projections of the socialist state could promise to eradicate the roots of crime by providing equality, justice, and well-being for all, the extent to which ‘benevolent’ force could be directed against those who continued to threaten society complicates such images. On the other, diminishing the state along anarchist lines might result in the ascent of ungoverned social harmony, but this is unsettled by the conception of individuals portraying anti-social physiological tendencies who would need to be prevented from harming the community. This thesis critically examines how such projections of socialist reorganisation contended with and articulated such uncertainties, as I uncover the relationship between these crime-free utopias and their unstable foundations.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Claeys, Gregory, Supervisor
  • Stone, Dan, Advisor
Award date1 Aug 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Utopia
  • Nineteenth Century
  • Crime
  • Socialism
  • Anarchism
  • H. G. Wells
  • Peter Kropotkin
  • Havelock Ellis
  • Edward Carpenter

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