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IP206 Utopia: Text, Theory, Practice

Kirsten Harris
Module Leader
Term 2
10 weeks
Availability / Priority

Liberal Arts and GSD

Monash exchange

Erasmus Liberal Arts exchange

Warwick Honours level students

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Principal Aims

Utopia: Text, Theory, Practice explores the utopian tradition as it is situated in changing social and historical contexts. You will critically examine the historiography of utopian social theory as it relates to ideas of progress and citizenship, studying utopian ventures in town planning, architecture and community building alongside fictional representations in art, film, and literature. You will discuss 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, you will explore key topics in the utopian tradition, such as environmentalism, technology, gender, the family, labour, health, freedom and authority. You will 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 encourages students to generate problems rising from utopian social theory and praxis, and to evaluate both the 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
Illustrative Syllabus (content may vary)

1. Utopian Beginnings: Thomas More’s Utopia and the Utopian Tradition
2. Progress and Evolution: Utopian Historiographies
3. Imagined Spaces I: William Morris, News from Nowhere; Walter Crane’s socialist art
4. Imagined Spaces II: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland
5. Imagined Spaces III: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time
6. Imagined Spaces IV: John Coney and Sun Ra, Space is the Place
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

Bammer, Angelika. Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s (Routledge, 1991)
Bauman, Zygmunt. ‘Utopia with No Topos’. History of the Human Sciences 16 (1) (2003): 11-25
Beaumont, Matthew. The Spectre of Utopia: Utopian and Science Fictions at the Fin de Siècle
(Peter Lang, 2012)
Beaumont, Matthew. Utopia, Ltd: Ideologies of Social Dreaming in England, 1870-1900 (Brill, 2005)
Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2010)
Claeys, Gregory. Searching for Utopia: The History of an Idea (Thames and Hudson, 2011)
Cooper, Davina. Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces (Duke University Press, 2013)
Jameson, Frederic. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Verso,
Jacoby, Russell. Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age (Columbia University
Press, 2007)
Jacoby, Russell. The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy (Basic Books, 2000)
Jones, Tobias. Utopian Dreams (Faber & Faber, 2008)
Levitas, Ruth. Utopia as Method (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)
Levitas, Ruth. The Concept of Utopia (Peter Lang, 2010)
Mannheim, Karl. Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge (Routledge,
Niman, Michael I. People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia (University of Tennessee Press, 1997)
Moylan, Tom, and Raffaella Baccolini (eds.) Utopia, Method, Vision: The Use Value of Social
Dreaming (Peter Lang, 2007)
Sreenivasan, Jyotsna. Utopias in American History (ABC-CLIO, 2008)