Utopia: A Global History
From Plato’s Republic to Thomas More’s Utopia, to the Sanders campaign manifesto in the US presidential primaries, the idea of an alternative, better world has animated political imagination throughout history. More’s Utopia (1551) describes a place called Utopia (Latin, for both ‘nowhere’ and ‘good place’), that functioned amongst other things, as a critique of the organization of society in sixteenth century England. Since then, the word utopia has come into its own, a descriptor for diverse projects of human emancipation globally. As a concept, utopia offers us a unique insight into specific critiques of society throughout the globe and the historical conjunctures they represent.
This course will introduce students to imaginations and real world iterations of utopia in various forms from early-modern history to the present day. Among the topics we will examine are – worker communes in Argentina, a utopic city in India, feminist science fiction, the Russian Revolution, political philosophy as diverse as Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, radical Islam and leftist reformism in major political parties in the US and UK in the last two years. Why does the production of alternative worlds produce the sharpest insights into the historical bases of societies they are meant as critiques of? What are the common strands connecting utopic iterations globally across historical time? What can these commonalities across cultures and global regions in the last two centuries tell us about the historical structure of capitalism and its global expansion?
In exploring these broad questions we will rely on a combination of sources including literature, film and newspapers. Through our readings and class discussions students will learn to manoeuvre across a range of historical and contemporary sources and develop a critical reading of texts to develop arguments about the place of utopia in broader social and political processes. By the end of this course students will formulate their own interpretation of why utopic thought has historically been an essential tool of critique. Together we will use utopia as a conceptual tool for understanding persistent features of capitalist society such as the expropriation of labour and specific types of inequality, through the global articulations of utopic alternatives.
The course includes a field trip where we will walk from Wall St. to Zuccotti Park and have an informal conversation on: the history of recent political movements in the wake of 2008, the Sanders campaign in the US and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party in the UK as possible/effective iterations of alternative political imagination. We will discuss whether the so-called right-wing populist movements are producing their own visions of utopia. We will decide on a date collectively for this short trip. We could also do the walk in Utopia Parkway, Queens provided we are able to access the local historical society and the maps it hold
MW: 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM; MW: 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM194M 301