My definition for dystopia is a society with an oppressive, leading authority that, through the direct or indirect permission of the people, imposes a depressing and powerless life upon them.
I think that this is a good definition for two reasons. Firstly, the definition addresses the society as it is split into those who are oppressed and those who act as oppressors. In dystopian worlds we tend to see the people under some form of oppression due to a leading authority or power. This idea of oppression and how it can be implemented is discussed in Iris Young’s Five Faces of Oppression and in Foucault’s Panopticism. Both authors discuss ways in which people can be controlled by an authority figure and I think they discuss great examples of how people in dystopian society’s tend to be treated.
Secondly, I see this as a good definition because it attempts to explain how the society came to be. Rather than simply blaming it on an oppressive authority, this definition looks at the origins of the oppressive authority, and that is through the direct or indirect permission of the people in the society. This can be something as simple as looking at the fact that, as Hobbes tells us, we chose to have government in the first place. Simply by putting a government in place we have given ourselves an oppressive authority. We can also look at it in terms of the human need for security and safety. If the people are shown or convinced that there is an eminent threat to our lives or wellbeing, we tend to choose safety over freedom. We see this with the increase of security at airports after the 9/11 attacks. In the name of safety we let our chosen authority create rules that restrict our freedoms for “the greater good”.
Overall, I think that this definition covers a lot of ground for what I have come to understand about dystopias.