Utopia: Philosophy and Literature - EN714

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
6 30 (15) PROF DS Ayers




Not available as wild



The module examines some key texts in the theory and literary presentation of utopia. In the first part of the module we will examine classic early utopian texts (Plato, More) and will set these in the context of the modern theory of historical progress (Hegel) the failure of that progress to materialise (Agamben) and the nature of hope for the future (Bloch). In the second part of the module, we will examine modern classics which look at the failure of the communist utopia (Zamyatin, Huxley, Orwell) and at later texts which revived the genre of utopia (LeGuin, Atwood).


This module appears in:

Contact hours

10 two-hour seminars supported by a weekly one-hour lecture

Method of assessment

This module can be taken by standard coursework route or by dissertation. NB: students can only take ONE MODULE by dissertation in stage 3.

Module by standard coursework:
Assessment will be based on two essays of 3000 words each (45% for each essay, forming a total of 90%).
The remaining 10% of the overall mark will come from seminar performance.

Module by dissertation:
Assessment will be in the form of:
1) a 500-word dissertation proposal (formative assessment and non-marked)
2) a dissertation of 6000 words (90%)
3) seminar performance mark (in accordance with the criteria published in the School of English Undergraduate Handbook (10%)

Preliminary reading

Plato (repr. 2008), The Republic. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics.
Thomas More (repr. 2012), Utopia. London: Penguin.
Hegel (repr. 2004), Introduction to The Philosophy of History. Minneola, NY: Dover.
Aldous Huxley (repr. 2007), Brave New World, London: Vintage.
George Orwell (repr. 2013), 1984. London: Penguin, 2013.
Margaret Atwood (repr. 1996), The Handmaid’s Tale. London: Vintage.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to demonstrate:

1. Analytical knowledge of aspects of the philosophy and theory of utopia from Plato to the present day;
2. An analytical, theoretical, and literary-critical understanding of selected key texts of twentieth-century utopian and dystopian literature;
3. An ability to relate the theoretical and literary texts to the historical pattern of events;
4. An in-depth understanding of the nature of the state and of the role played by speculative thought and imaginative literature in the analysis of the present and preparation for the future.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Form arguments using philosophical and literary-critical vocabulary;
2. Display strong presentation and group discussion skills;
3. Possess an increased capacity for self-directed research and the ability to discuss, evaluate and creatively deploy secondary critical and theoretical perspectives making use of appropriate scholarly sources;
4. Identify appropriate research questions and demonstrate the ability to construct original, clear, well-substantiated arguments.

In addition, students taking the module by dissertation will be able to:
5. marshal complex knowledge and present it clearly and logically in the substantive form of a dissertation

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