Undergraduate

modules

Modules

SOC3078 : Dreamworlds: Society and the utopian imagination

Semesters
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0

Aims

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. 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 plans for sustainable cities; 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.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture11:001:00Whole group assessment preparation Q&A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion1100:00100:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture122:0024:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching21:002:00Assessment preparation workshops
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 study162:0062:00N/A
Total200:00
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 a compulsory film screening and discussion as part of 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 Weeks 1-6 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 lectures 7-12 of the module. This assessment enalbes students to develop skills of selection, empirical independent empirical analysis, and synthesis of ideas and concepts .

Reading Lists

Timetable