EN3UTD-Utopia and Dystopia in English and American Literature

Module Provider: English Literature
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites: Pre-requisites: English Part 1 or A-Level (A*, A or B)
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2019/0

Module Convenor: Dr Chloe Houston

Email: c.houston@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

Utopia is our way of thinking about the nature and possibility of an ideal society. The word ‘utopia’, coined by Thomas More in 1516, suggests both ‘good place’ (from the Greek, ‘eu-topos’) and ‘no place’ (‘ou-topos’): a place which is both ideal and non-existent. This module will introduce the idea of utopia from its earliest manifestations in western literature up to the present day. Reading a range of texts from different genres and periods of history, we will explore the development of utopian literature from its philosophical, satirical origins in the sixteenth century to the ecological utopias of the late twentieth century and beyond. Along the way, we will encounter the notion of dystopia, a literary tradition which has a shorter but equally rich history, and will question the ways in which utopias and dystopias are inter-related.


This module is designed to introduce students to a wide range of utopian and dystopian literature in order to consider how and why people write about ideal societies and their opposites. To what extent is it possible for a work of fiction to imagine a perfect world? Do such texts seek to effect social change and, if so, are they successful? What is the relationship between utopia and dystopia? In addressing these questions students will be able to explore the origins of science fiction, the relationship between utopia and travel writing, the role of utopia in politics and feminism, the theological component to utopias, and the development of dystopias or anti-utopias, amongst many other topics.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that students will be able to:

• exercise skills of close textual analysis and produce critical readings of the primary texts selected for study

• demonstrate an awareness of the historical, social and cultural contexts within which the primary texts are produced

• recognize and describe the ways in which the utopia changes during the period studied in terms of both form and content

• engage critically with readings of the primary material presented in criticism and in seminar discussions

• organize and articulate a scholarly critical argument in writing, both in coursework and examination

• produce a learning journal in the form of an individual weblog for formative and summative assessment.

Additional outcomes:

Outline content:

We will study nine texts over the term. Texts for 2019-20 are likely to include:

Thomas More, Utopia (1516); Francis Bacon, New Atlantis (1626); Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1726) – Book IV only; Sarah Scott, Millenium Hall (1762); Edward Bellamy, Looking Backwards (1888); Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1931); George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four (1949); Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974); Benjamin Markovits, You Don’t Have to Live Like This (2015).

Global context:

We will be considering utopias and dystopias written in countries other than the UK, and for the blog assessment students may draw on any utopian or dystopian writing they wish, including literature not written in English, provided that a translation is available.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Three seminar hours weekly, for which students are required to do preparatory reading. Students are also entitled to a half-hour tutorial on their formative written work. With the consent of the module convenor, students may also undertake a placement, through which they will learn how to apply the knowledge and skills gained in studying for this module in a professional context outside the University.


Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 30
Project Supervision 1
Guided independent study: 169
Total hours by term 200
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 80
Oral assessment and presentation 20

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

This module is assessed by a formal presentation (20%), given in a seminar, and a weblog of approximately 4,000 words (80%). If an academic placement is undertaken for this module, with the approval of the convenor, the written assessment for the module will be a 2,000 word essay (40%) and a 2,000 word placement report (40%).

Formative assessment methods:

Formative Assessment Methods - work which provides opportunities to improve performance (e.g. through feedback provided) but which does not necessarily always contribute towards the overall module mark. Students are given the option of writing one formative essay, of between 1500 and 2000 words. 

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    A mark of at least 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Coursework will be carried forward if it bears a confirmed mark of 40% or more. Otherwise it must be resubmitted by 22 August.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 8 April 2019


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