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IP206 Utopian Societies, Past and Present

Kirsten Harris
Module Leader
Term 2
10 weeks
Availability / Priority

Liberal Arts and GSD

Monash exchange

Erasmus Liberal Arts exchange

Warwick Honours level students

Moodle Platform »

Principal Aims

Utopian Societies, Past and Present examines the utopian tradition as it is situated in changing social and historical contexts. It will critically examine the historiography of utopian social theory as it relates to ideas of progress and good citizenship. It will study utopian ventures in town planning, architecture and community building alongside fictional representations in art, film and literature. The module will explore how utopian projects, real and imaginary, comment on existing social structures in their attempt to construct a better life. Through the interrogation of diverse source material and case studies, the module will explore key topics in the utopian tradition, such as environmentalism, technology, gender, the family, labour, health, freedom and authority. It will critically consider the dystopian elements contained within the drive to reform self and society, and will assess the validity of theorisations of utopian decline in the twenty-first century. Using a transdisciplinary Problem-Based Learning approach, this module will encourage students to generate problems rising from utopian social theory and praxis, and to critique the scope, value and limitations of the utopian tradition.

Principal Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the key features and development of the utopian tradition in Western thought, art and practice.
  • Critically examine utopian ideologies and practices in relation to concepts of citizenship and community
  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of chronological and geospatial aspects of utopian thought, art and practice
  • Critically assess the scope and limitations of utopian ideology and practice as a means of social and/or political intervention
  • Critically assess theorisations of the decline of the utopian tradition in relation to contemporary practice
  • Demonstrate advanced cognitive skills such as critical analysis, source-text analysis, qualitative research methods and communication skills
  • Demonstrate meta-cognitive skills such as: planning how to approach a learning task and identifying the appropriate strategies to solve a problem.
  • Demonstrate the ability to use methodologies from sociology, visual cultures, art, history, English studies and cultural studies to analyse a range of sources in cultural and historical perspective
  1. Utopian Beginnings: Thomas More’s Utopia and the Utopian Tradition
  2. Progress and Evolution: Utopian Historiographies
  3. Imagined Spaces I: Utopian Socialism (William Morris, News from Nowhere; Walter Crane’s socialist art)
  4. Imagined Spaces II: “A Strange and Terrible Woman Land” (Margaret Cavendish, The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World; Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland)
  5. Imagined Spaces III: Technological Utopianism (H. G. Wells and William Cameron Menzies, Things to Come)
  6. Imagined Spaces IV: Ecologies (Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia)
  7. Utopian Practice I: The Garden City Movement and Town-Planning
  8. Utopian Practice II: Utopian Space and Architecture
  9. Utopian Practice III: Model and Intentional Communities
  10. The Decline of the Utopian Tradition?: Future-Founding in the Twenty-First Century
Illustrative reading list

A Model Community (dir. Ian Nesbitt, 2015)

Crane, Walter. Cartoons for the Cause (Twentieth Century Press, 1896)

Crane, Walter. ‘Art and Socialism.’ An Artist’s Reminiscences (Macmillan, 1907)

Callenbach, Ernest. Ecotopia (Bantam, 1990)

Cavendish, Margaret. The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (Maxwell, 1668)

Coleman, Nathaniel. Utopias and Architecture (Routledge, 2005)

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wall-Paper, Herland and Selected Writings (Oxford, 2010)

Howard, Ebenezer. Garden Cities of Tomorrow (Swan Sonnenschein, 1902)

More, Thomas. Utopia (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Morris, William. News from Nowhere (Oxford University Press, 2003)

Settlers in England (dir. Ian Nesbitt, 2015)

Things to Come (dir. William Cameron Menzies, 1936)

Assessment Choice A

Assessment Choice D