This course explores the concepts of Utopia and Dystopia. Sir Thomas More coined the term utopia as a combination of Greek words meaning happy place and no place/nowhere. Far from describing a never never land, utopias often represent cultural protest against unjust institutions or policies and propose political or social reforms. In recent years, there has been increasing attention to dystopic visions reprsenting oppressive totalitarian regimes, environmental degradation, and/or technological oppression.

This is an interdisciplinary course. Students will read literature, watch films, and look at artistic portrayals of utopia and dystopia. The films we will discuss include Nineteen Eighty FourBlade RunnerGattacaHunger Games, and Japanese animation.

A premise of this course is that Utopian Studies is directly relevant to contemporary social problems and important to thinking creatively about solutions. In our discussion of texts and films and in student projects, we will focus on the connection between utopian thought and contemporary challenges such as ethnic and racial conflict, economic inequality, the dehumanizing effect of technological dependence, and alternatives to traditional nuclear family relationships. How can utopian thought or utopian experiments help us address these challenges? What warnings are provided by dystopian literature, film, and art?

Students will be encouraged to explore a particular areas of “utopia studies” that are of interest to them such as Utopian communities, Utopia and religion, Utopia and gender, Utopia and race, Utopia and cosmopolitanism, Utopia and political philosophy, Utopia and economics, Utopia and bioengineering, Utopia and the environment, Utopia and animals, Utopia and art, Utopia and music, Utopia and architecture. Students who wish to do so are invited to “construct” their own utopian societies. Students may work individually or collaboratively with other students as they prepare a final paper or project.