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The University of Southampton

ENGL3098 Utopias and Dystopias in Literature and Culture

Module Overview

From Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia to Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, utopias have always been haunted by the spectre of the dystopian. If utopias imagine alternative ways of organizing society, dystopia uses the conventions of utopia to ask questions about the limits of such utopian ideals. This module invites you to consider the wider cultural, spatial, historical, philosophical, and ecological implications of the utopian and the dystopian in a range of literary and cultural texts. The module begins with work that raises questions about the longer history of utopia in literature and culture. You will then work with cultural texts and debates that explore the relationship between dystopia and totalitarianism, disaster capitalism, and global catastrophe. Across the module, you will explore utopian and dystopian narratives from Africa, Britain, North America, and other parts of the world, and you will consider the importance of utopia and dystopia to debates about modernity, gender, identity, capitalism, imperialism, climate change, reproductive rights, terrorism, and state violence.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the literary and broader artistic and cultural history of utopia/ dystopia.
  • the significance of utopias/dystopias to conceptualising the present and the future.
  • the significance of utopia/dystopia to debates about imperialism, race, gender, ecology, and capitalist modernity.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • research and understand literary scholarship that bears upon ideas of utopia/ dystopia in a wider cultural and historical context
  • use this research and understanding to debate the meaning of utopia/dystopia.
  • write about the significance of utopian/dystopian literature and visual culture in relation to current scholarly debates about imperialism, race, gender, ecology, and capitalist modernity..
  • reflect on your own position as a reader and scholar in relation to current affairs and public debate.
  • debate big issues of public and global significance with conceptual rigour.
  • write with conviction and care.


The module begins with a consideration of the history of the utopian genre. We then consider different critical approaches to utopia and whether all utopias are also dystopias. Across the semester, we will consider a range of utopian and dystopian narratives that address different cultural anxieties associated with modernity. The module will engage you with a range of novels, short stories and films, and will give you opportunities to engage with different theoretical approaches to utopia/ dystopia. Indicative primary reading list: Thomas More, Utopia (1516) Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925) Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932) Ursula Le Guin The Dispossessed (1974) Ernst Callenbach, Ecotopia (1975) Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) Nuruddin Farah, Sweet and Sour Milk (1992) Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (2005) Neil Blomkamp (dir.), District Nine (2009) Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror (2011-) Leni Zumas, Red Clocks (2018) Please note that exact reading lists are likely to change from year to year.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods will include lectures, seminars, and workshops on research, using theory, working across disciplines, and writing process and practice. Learning methods will include debating, working in small groups, formulating questions as well as answers, writing in class as well as independently. This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Assessment tasks100
Follow-up work50
Preparation for scheduled sessions100
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction. by Lyman Tower Sargent. Oxford University Press, 2010.

The Utopia Reader. ed. by Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent. New York University Press 2010.

Utopia/Dystopia: Conditions of Historical Possibility. Ed. by Michael Gordin, Helen Tilley and Gyan Prakash. Princeton University Press, 2010. Ebook available via Library Search.

The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. ed. by Gregory Claeys. Cambridge University Press, 2010

Searching for Utopia: The History of an Idea. by Gregory Claeys. Thames and Hudson, 2011



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3300 words) 60%
Timed Assignment  (3300 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4200 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Cost of essential readings for this module will not typically exceed £50.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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