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Utopian Political Thought and Practice



Utopianism is—more often than not—used as a term of derision today, especially in politics. But why is this? Has it always been this way? And what is the relationship between Utopianism and transformational politics? This course explores these questions by first looking at the history of the concept Utopia before addressing its relationship to contemporary politics. The course examines contemporary debates in utopian studies and its critics including the relationship between ideology and utopia; the role of imagination in politics; authoritarianism and utopia; and the role of utopian politics. The final part of the course explores utopia in practice, drawing on empirical scholarship to look at both historical and contemporary utopian experiments and their visions for societal transformation. The goal of the course is to critically acquaint students with the tradition of utopian political thinking, its dangers, and its potentials in an age that seems more at home in apocalyptic than utopian dreaming.

Course Objectives

This course aims to explore and challenge the terms of contemporary discourse on Utopianism and politics, including the history of the concept Utopia, its proponents, and its critics. These different positionalities will be discussed and debated in class with the aim of providing students with a vocabulary and toolkit for approaching the problems and potentials of utopianism today. The final project will draw upon an empirical example of utopian practice—present or past—and analyze it using one of the conceptual frameworks treated in class.

Grade Components

-Participation (35%): Everybody is expected to contribute to the discussion in class. Lectures will be kept to a minimum as we will all share the responsibility for covering and discussing the material in class. The participation grade will be based on attendance, class participation, and short in-class presentations.

-Research Project (65%): A final 2500-3000 word research project on a topic of your choice related to utopianism. Students will be provided with some questions to structure the paper; however, if a student would like to pursue an independent project they are welcome to suggest one. More instructions will be given in class. *The final research paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.


The reading list and syllabus will be posted on Brightspace before the start of the course. Some examples of where our readings will be drawn from include:

-Bloch, Ernst. 2000 (1918). The Spirit of Utopia. (Stanford: Stanford UP).
-Cooper, Davina. 2013. Everyday Utopias. (Durham: Duke UP).
-Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble. (Durham: Duke UP).
-Hardy, Karl. 2012. “Unsettling Hope: Settler-Colonialism and Utopianism”, Spaces of Utopia 2:1.
-Jameson, Frederic. 2004. “The Politics of Utopia”, NLR 25.
-Leopold, David. 2016. “On Marxian Utopophobia”, Journal of the History of Philosophy 54:1.
-Levitas, Ruth. 2013. Utopia as Method. (London: Palgrave Macmillan).
-Mieville, China. 2014. “The Limits of Utopia”, Salvage.
-Moylan, Tom. 2020. Becoming Utopian. (London: Bloomsbury Academic).
-Nersessian, Anahid. 2015. Utopia, Limited. (Cambridge: Harvard UP).
-Sargent, Lyman Tower. 2010. Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford: Oxford UP).
-Sargisson, Lucy. 2012. Fool’s Gold: Utopianism in the 21st Century. (London: Palgrave Macmillan).


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