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

  • Inactive for Year: 2022/23
  • 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 powerful demands for a better world. From the revival of political populism to Black Lives Matter; from proposals for a green new deal to the performative activism of Extinction Rebellion; from fiction by Ursula Le Guin to the Afrofuturist visions of Janelle Monae - desires for better futures play out across politics, culture, the arts and everyday life. Utopian thought is entangled with contemporary debates on climate change, the future of work, social justice, meritocracy, sexual identities – the list goes on. Even in the pandemic we have seen some hope for a more equal and caring society and practices of mutual aid and solidarity emerge alongside pain, disruption, inequality and fear.

This module looks at how human cultures are suffused with attempts to imagine and practice better ways of living. Utopianism is both more ubiquitous and more socially and sociologically important than you might think. The module explores how utopias are shaped by the political, intellectual and social dynamics of their times, but also how utopias might reshape ideas, people and communities. Utopianism is indispensable to thinking critically and creatively about both the way societies are and the way they should be. As such we might wonder why it doesn’t play a more prominent role in sociology. 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 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

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture72:0014:00Recorded asynchronous, not timetabled. Topic lectures.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture30:301:30Recorded asynchronous, not timetabled. Introduction and guidance lectures.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture21:002:00Whole group. Film screening asynchronous, not timetabled.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion1100:00100:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching10:300:30PiP small group assessment workshops, synchronous, timetabled (5 groups x 30 mins)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00PiP seminars, small groups, synchronous, timetabled.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops81:008:00PiP whole group workshops, synchronous, timetabled.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study165:0065:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures will deliver crucial 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 or watch film materials, begin researching empirical materials, and undertake other relevant tasks. The module includes two compulsory film screenings linked seminar preparation.

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 and follows from material covered in Part 1 of the module. 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 practice. These materials are introduced in Part 2 of the module. This assessment enables students to develop skills of selection, empirical independent empirical analysis, and synthesis of ideas and concepts.

Reading Lists