Utopia Ltd.? Capitalist Utopianism and Model Company Villages in Interwar England. / McKie, Adam.

2020. 376 p.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis



  • Adam McKie PhD Thesis

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This thesis examines the concept of ‘capitalist utopianism’ between the world wars, primarily through the construction and ideological dismantling of two self-titled ‘utopian’ company settlements built in England. The thesis proposes three principles of liberal capitalist utopianism – a concept that few scholars have discussed and is thought to be ‘invisible as a utopia’: liberty as self-determination, efficiency as universal opulence, and justice as unity of interests. It explores this social dreaming through the ‘three faces’ of utopianism: social theory, intentional societies, and (to a lesser extent) utopian literature. Through this methodology, it outlines how these principles were attempted to be realised in the model company settlements of Silver End, built by the Crittall Manufacturing Company in north Essex between 1926 and 1932, and East Tilbury, built by British Bata in south Essex after 1934.

By examining how the political economy traversed the interwar ‘crisis of capitalism’, it enriches our understanding of England’s relative interwar stability through an interdisciplinary approach that combines the history of ideas and economic and political theory, with its praxis and shortcomings in two detailed case studies. The technocratic and technological utopianism of these years was championed in these villages and encapsulated in their modernistic architecture. It demonstrates how the emergence of welfare capitalism was engineered to reduce class conflict, and how this operated in practice through the comprehensive ‘enmeshment’ of worker-residents. It outlines how a ‘corporate consciousness’ was fostered in these villages that attempted to create ‘minor capitalists’ of their working-class residents. It details how the internal contradictions of capitalism and capitalist utopianism undermined this utopianism, while stressing that the agency of workers and residents was crucial in the ideological dismantling of these autocratic projects. It concludes by arguing the origins of Britain’s post-1945 social democracy, and the erosion of liberal capitalism, can be witnessed in these villages from the mid-1930s.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • Economic History Society
  • Society for the Study of Labour History
Award date1 Jun 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 14 Sep 2020

ID: 42092303