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

  • Inactive for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Lisa Garforth
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


In the early years of the 21st century we have witnessed dramatic renewals, reversals and rewritings of hopes and fears about the future. Predictions of coming catastrophe – economic meltdown, political chaos, climate crisis – circulate intensively in media and popular debate. Dystopian narratives and anti-utopian thinking are deeply sutured into our culture. But we have also seen more and perhaps more powerful demands for a better world than ever before. From the politics of hope to the revival of populism to Silicon Valley’s techno-utopianism; from narratives of climate meltdown to proposals for a green new deal or the performative activism of Extinction Rebellion; from celebrations of Ursula Le Guin’s radically visionary science fiction to Bjork’s Utopian musical experiments, desires for better futures play out in radical protest and mainstream politics, across culture, the arts and social and spatial practices.

Modern societies may seem to want to imagine the worst. But human cultures are also suffused with attempts to imagine and practice better ways of living. This module starts with the claim that utopianism is both more ubiquitous and more socially and sociologically important than you might think. It explores how utopias are shaped by the political, intellectual and social dynamics of their times, but also how utopias might reshape ideas, people and societies. Utopian thought is entangled with vital contemporary debates: on climate change and environmental politics; automation and the future of work; social justice in a globalising age; neo-liberalism and its alternatives. And arguably utopianism is indispensable to thinking critically and creatively about both the way the world is and the way it should be.

On this module you will engage intensively with questions of what utopias are, where we might find them, and what they do in and to our social worlds. The module offers theoretical resources for conceptualising utopia and exploring utopianism as a mode of social analysis, as well as opportunities to examine and analyse wide-ranging examples of utopian thought and practice. The module will:

- introduce examples of utopian thought, texts and practices and situate them in their social contexts;
- consider debates about the definition, nature and function of utopian ideas in modern and postmodern societies;
- explore the links between utopianism, society and social change.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will introduce the concept of utopia and explore a range of theoretical approaches to the topic, focusing in particular on how we can identify and define utopia and its role in human cultures. We consider arguments about utopia’s function: is it primarily escapist, critical, transformative? How is it implicated in social and political change? The module examines the changing historical, social and political contexts of utopianism, focusing in particular on the shift from modern to post or late modern societies and its problematic links with colonial projects and white Enlightenment imaginaries.

The module explores these questions while also focusing on empirical examples of texts, artforms, communities, political visions, urban planning, spatial practices, and social movements that embody utopian thinking or aspirations. We will look at the relationship between utopia and different political ideologies and ideas, including feminism, ecological politics, neo-liberalism and anti-capitalism. This module will examine utopian and dystopian literature and film, as well as the expression of utopian ideas in other cultural and artistic texts and objects, including music and art. The module also explores historical and contemporary attempts to live out utopian ideals in intentional communities and other spatial practices and examines claims that utopianism is intimately entangled in everyday social life.

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists