Study Abroad and Exchanges



SOC3078 : Dreamworlds: Society and the utopian imagination (Inactive)

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


In the early years of the 21st century we have witnessed a dramatic renewal and rewriting of hopes and fears about the future. Dystopian and post-apocalyptic scenarios proliferate in popular media, from Wall-E to The Hunger Games. Predictions of coming catastrophe – economic meltdown, climate crisis – circulate intensively in politics and popular debate. At the same time we have seen new expressions of desire for a better world and attempts to imagine different social arrangements: Obama’s rhetoric of hope; grass-roots movements for radical democratic change all over the world; new strains of technological optimism.

As well as trying to imagine the worst, most human societies are also suffused with attempts to imagine and practice better ways of living – in short, utopianism. We can find utopias and expressions of the utopian imagination throughout culture, media, politics, and social movements; in architecture and urban design; in intentional communities and other alternative social and spatial practices. This module offers theoretical and practical resources for thinking critically and creatively about what utopias are, where we might find them, and what they are doing in and to our social world.

So what is utopia? How do we identify and define it? Is the capacity to imagine better societies
intrinsic to human cultures? How is it shaped by historical circumstances? Do dreams of a better way
of living have a social function, providing escape from an unfulfilling reality or offering a unique form of social criticism and the hope of radical social change? The module examines these questions by
analysing empirical examples of texts, communities, ideologies and social movements that embody
utopian thinking or aspirations, as well as considering key debates in contemporary utopian, social
and political theory. It explores how utopias are shaped by the political, intellectual and social
dynamics of their times, but also how utopias might shape and reshape ideas, people and societies.

The module aims to:
introduce a range of examples of utopian thought, texts and practices and situate them in their social
consider debates about the definition, nature and function of utopian ideas in modern and postmodern
explore the links between utopianism and social change;
consider the relationships between utopia and social and political theories.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will introduce the concept of utopia and explore a range of theoretical and analytical approaches to the topic. It will consider the changing historical, social and political contexts of utopianism, focusing in particular on the shift from modern to post or late modern societies. The module will explore the relationship between utopia and socialist, feminist and ecological politics, and its relevance to contemporary anti-globalisation, environmental and anti-capitalist movements. It will consider the expression of utopian ideas in utopian and dystopian novels as well as other cultural texts, and examine historical and contemporary attempts to live out utopian ideals in a range of intentional communities. We will look at whether utopia is still possible or relevant today, after a century of anti-utopianism and in what are often seen as ‘end’ times.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture122:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion1100:00100:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching11:001:00Assessment preparation workshop
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching12:002:00Film screening and discussion
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study164:0064:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures will deliver important introductions to and overviews of central module topics and debates. Seminars enable students to develop their knowledge and develop skills in understanding, articulating and applying ideas. They will also provide a space for students to explore empirical materials which will inform assessment work (see below). Between seminars students will complete readings, begin researching empirical materials, and undertake other relevant tasks. Two surgery sessions allow students to benefit from one-to-one support with assessment development and subsequently detailed feedback on their performance.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M502,000 word essay
Research paper2M50Research paper - analysis of utopian case study. 2,000 words.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The essay will examine students’ capacity to understand and critically analyse theories and debates about utopianism and the links between utopia and social theory. The research paper will test learning and skills outcomes by examining students’ ability to apply theoretical concepts and understandings of utopia to case studies and examples drawn from contemporary or historical cultural representations or social practices, allowing students to develop skills of critical anlaysis and synthesis.

Reading Lists