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Unit information: Utopian Literature in 2016/17

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Unit name Utopian Literature
Unit code ENGL20058
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Tamsin Badcoe
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


How do texts imagine a perfect world? What do authors’ imagined worlds tell us about the preoccupations and ideologies of their time? This unit approaches utopian writing in various genres from a historical perspective in order to interrogate the role of utopian thinking, from its origins in classical literature and the prose fiction of the early modern period, and traces its development through to the present day. Students will engage with theoretical conceptions of utopian thought and primary texts that engage with, question and/or satirise politics and governance, liberty and labour, gender dynamics, science and technology, and, finally, what it is to be human. The utopian describes places that are potentially both ‘good’ and ultimately ‘placeless’, and the ideas we explore will be seen to move through a variety of genres and forms, from the philosophical dialogue and the scientific treatise to poetry and modern novel.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have demonstrated:

(1) a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of utopian forms and their evolution;

(2) an in-depth understanding of the theoretical contexts including the relationship of utopian writing to cultural pressures such as geographical thought, the use and misuse of the environment, gender, language, and social justice.

(3) the ability to analyse and evaluate differing critical accounts of the primary literature;

(4) the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument, and

(5) strengthened skills in argumentation and academic writing, appropriate to level I/5.

Teaching details

1 x 2 hour seminar weekly

Assessment Details

One short essay of 2000 words (40%) and one long essay of 3000 words (60%). Both will assess (ILO 1-5).

Reading and References

Three Early Modern Utopias, ed. Susan Bruce (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World (1666)

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005)

Gregory Claeys, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia, new edition (Oxford: Lang, 2010)