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Week 7: Utopias

Tutor: Dr Anna Neima

Utopianism is a phenomenon that comes up again and again historically, in the form of literary utopias, intentional communities and social theory. It can be a way of questioning the dominant social order by envisioning a theoretical alternative. Or, when the dominant order is disrupted, suspended, or wiped out by war, epidemic or natural disaster, it can be a way of experimenting practically with how to live. This seminar will explore the nature and uses of utopianism, focusing on the interwar years but also looking further back in time and forward to today.

Seminar Questions

  • How should we define utopias? What are their roles in society?
  • What is different about successive waves of utopias and why?
  • What are the limits of utopianism? Do all utopias fail? Who, historically, has been excluded from the project of utopianism?

Seminar Reading

  • Lyman Tower Sargent, Utopianism – A Very Short Introduction. Read the introduction, 1-6, and chapter 6, ‘Utopianism and Political Theory’, 102-117. Together these give a good overview of the topic.
  • Anna Neima, The Utopians: Six Attempts to Build the Perfect Society (2021) – introduction, 1-12, and ‘Dartington Hall’, 47-84.
  • Chris Jennings, Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism (2016) – introduction, 3-22, and ‘The Shakers: American Zion’, 23-78.
  • Aldous Huxley, Island (1962). It would also be great if you could familiarise yourself with Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) if you have not read it, even just via Wikipedia.

Additional Reading

  • The ‘Nice Try’ podcast discusses a wide range of practical utopian experiments and is an easy listen:
  • Krishnan Kumar, ‘The Ends of Utopia’, New Literary History 41 (2010), 549-69.
  • Thomas More, Utopia (1516). Available online:
  • Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia, esp. chapters 1-4 and 7.
  • Ruth Levitas, ‘For Utopia: The (Limits of the) Utopian Function in Late Capitalist Society’, Critical Review of International Social & Political Philosophy 3 (2001), 25-43.
  • Gregory Claeys, “News from Somewhere: Enhanced Sociability and the Composite Definition of Utopia and Dystopia,” History 98 (2013), 145-73.
  • China Miéville, ‘The Limits of Utopia’, Salvage []
  • Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (2010)
  • Dennis Hardy, Utopian England: Community Experiments, 1900-1945 (2000).
  • Tessa Morris-Suzuki, ‘Beyond Utopia: New Villages and Living Politics in Modern Japan and Across Frontiers’, History Workshop Journal 85 (2018), 47-71.
  • Jay Winter, Dreams of Peace and Freedom: Utopian Moments in the Twentieth Century (2006).