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“Organised Clairvoyance”: Supranational Surveillance and Controlled Borderlessness in H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia

Authors
  • Foster, Jonathan
Type
Published Article
Journal
Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Publisher
De Gruyter
Publication Date
Jun 27, 2022
Volume
70
Issue
2
Pages
145–157
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/zaa-2022-2059
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

In A Modern Utopia (1905), H. G. Wells prophesised that emergent technologies of personal identification such as fingerprinting and central registries would enable the dismantling of national borders. Situating Wells’s novel as a literary expression of a period of experimentation in European mobility control at the turn of the twentieth century, this essay argues that Wells’s ideas about controlled borderlessness were indeed highly prescient, anticipating the recent rise of supranational mobility control à la the EU’s Schengen cooperation. If Wells’s theorisation of mobility control was ahead of its time, then so was his suspenseful narrative about undocumented aliens in utopia fearfully navigating a supranational surveillance state. In this essay I emphasise the correspondences between Wells’s delineation of controlled borderlessness and modern-day supranational mobility control, whilst also highlighting discrepancies and discordant notes in Wells’s bureaucratic-technocratic utopian vision.

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