Building Utopia

Turning the tables: the table as utopian object for future struggle

  • Linda Stupart (Birmingham City University)
  • Tom Dillon (Birkbeck College, University of London)


Instead of looking for objects that contain within them an immanent Utopia, we propose to queer the everyday object of the table for use in the contemporary struggle for a future egalitarian society. We begin by applying Sara Ahmed’s critique of white male philosophy via the table in Queer Phenomenology, to To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, in which Lily Briscoe is expected to imagine philosophy as ‘a kitchen table […] when you’re not there.’ Woolf considers the table, not as a ‘phantom’ object, disassociated from its use value, but as an object at the centre of domestic life with labour etched into its very surface. Lily Briscoe cannot imagine the table as merely a symbol of philosophy but of one that is ‘scrubbed…grained and knotted’, marked by both the history of its use and its production. 

Next we consider the table in a range of utopian writing, from Thomas More’s Utopia to Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope before considering the table in The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. In Le Guin’s novel the table acts as a novum of capitalism, estranging the protagonist Shevek from his own anarchist culture. The table becomes a way for Shevek to understand the gendered division of labour that structures and drives capitalist society; he sees a ‘woman in every table top’ as both constituting and being constituted by hierarchical relations between genders under capitalism.  We then suggest a number of ways in which the table can be reoriented towards a Utopian future via queer use in present struggles; proposing the kitchen table as multi-purpose surface for domestic labour and resistance; through demanding ‘a place at the table’ for marginalised groups; and lastly through ‘turning the tables’, transforming that everyday object into revolutionary barricade.

Keywords: Science Fiction, Utopian studies, Queer theory, Tables, Transformative politics

How to Cite:

Stupart, L. & Dillon, T., (2019) “Turning the tables: the table as utopian object for future struggle”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 5(1), 24-39. doi:

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Published on
30 Apr 2019
Peer Reviewed