Countryside Futurism: Rotterdam Study Abroad Seminar

The crisis of the city and the return of rural Utopias: Metropolitan centers have become ruralized. It is the militant spirit of the inner city that fulfills all the negative criteria attributed to villages: a homogenous demographic structure, xenophobia (refugees are always sent to the suburbs), narrow streets, deceleration, and an aesthetics of the idyll. Could it be that big-city centers are designed only with financial flows in mind, and appeal only to wealthy retirees and tourists? Could it be that we’re the last generation to see the big city as a promise? The urban aesthetic augurs an end. How could places look that foster, rather than offering security and comfort at the price of self-determination, freedom and self-responsibility?

Countryside Utopia: A journey to the countryside has often been misunderstood as an act of de-politicization or a retreat into the private and nostalgic. As the futuristic paintings of Benedetta Cappa or John Berger’s writing prove, the countryside can also be a respite from the slowness and torpor and the museum-like atmosphere of the city, a space of hopeful acceleration and politicization.

Repopulation: Currently, the European countryside experiences the influx of two very diverse groups of arrivals: Following a law that demands for mandatory residence in the countryside, many refugees are forced to live in formerly depopulated villages far away from the classic “arrival cities”. This forced repopulation is complemented by new forms of utopian countryside communes. 
The ideal image of country life: Through fieldtrips, visits and interviews, we will analyse the emergence of these new countryside camps, and communes in Germany and France, where people live out a mixture of Black Mountain College, Monte Verità, and a kibbutz. This seminar will investigate into the history and the present condition of utopian countryside communes, from Brook Farm to Twin Oaks Community, Arcosanti, Tarnac and other intentional countryside communes.
It will also look at the aesthetization of the countryside from different angles, with equal emphasis on idyllic city-dweller’s projections and the design of tractors and other industrial products.

Looking at animals: Finally, we will look at the countryside as a space of negotiation between the interests of humans and non-human species: Of man and lions (a tourist attraction, and a threat to Massai Cattles) in Kenya and Tanzania, of apes and men in Kenya.