There are a number of works that depict an ostensibly utopian society which has elements of or is arguably a dystopia (such as Huxley's Brave New World or what Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four's Airstrip One alleges itself to be). Is there a term for this?

  • Yes, it's called "life as we know it"! Don Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 3:06
  • 1
    Isn't dystopia already the word itself, that you are seeking? Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 9:13
  • By the way, you mentioned "Brave New World" is Orwell's but it is Huxley's.
    – ermanen
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 15:22

2 Answers 2


It is called a negative utopia. The excerpt at the back of the novel 1984 uses the term negative utopia also.

Below is a passage that explains negative utopia regarding to Orwell's and Huxley's novels and the distinction between dystopia and negative utopia:

Here the distinction between a dystopia and a negative utopia is significant. George Orwell's 1984, for example, imagines a culture in which pleasure is withheld; in Brave New World, pleasure is imposed. Since Orwell writes about mass culture from an internal perspective, the reader views it as invasive, exploitative and dispiriting. Orwell does not generally show the reader pleasurable effects of the mass culture he denounces. Huxley's "negative utopia" takes more representational risks by beckoning its reader to imagine the allure of what is also ultimately a repressive mechanism of social control.

The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents By Laura Frost

A further explanation about negative utopia and the distinction between dystopian writers and negative utopians:

A further link between negativity and utopia is the phenomenon of negative utopians. Distinct from dystopian writers, these negative utopians are theorists whose work has clear utopian aspects and implications, and yet who refuse to present any positive image of what utopia might look like. The list of these negative utopians would include, among others, such names as Marx, Block, and Adorno. The negativity of these utopians comes in terms of how they choose to depict utopia—or rather, refuse to depict it.

Marcuse's Second Dimension: Negativity and Critical Theory By Daniel P. Malloy

There are also less common terms used in some of the publications that combine two terms:

  • dystopian utopia
  • utopian dystopia
  • dystopic utopia
  • utopic dystopia

This genre can also be considered as a sub-genre of speculative fiction which is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres. For example, Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid's Tale, prefers to use the term speculative fiction for her novel and considers this term as a fiction about things that really could happen.

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The Cube By Nat Karody, Claudia Moscovici


Whoa whoa ... utopia means "place that doesn't exist."

What I mean to say is, that was the point in More's smart-ass, sarcastic, book.

When you use Utopia, you use it as a negative.

It's just like saying "dreamland" -- "maybe in dreamland," "oh that will work, in dreamland."

  • 3
    utopia also means "a perfect place" (sense 2 in the OED) and people have been using it in that sense for more than 400 years. Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 15:52

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