Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Virtual Revolution

"The internet is the ultimately empowering tool." "The web is a great leveller." "The people who designed the web are the ultimate social misfits." "How does the equality promised by the web clash with human nature?"

You should all download and watch this programme from BBC2. Here is the linK Read more!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Radburn Garden Village, New Jersey, US (1929: a town for the motor age)

Read more!

Ebenezer Howard, Garden Cities of Tomorrow

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it. Read more!

New Earswick Garden Village, 1902 -

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it. Read more!

New Earswick Garden Village 1902- Read more!

Week Two, 2010, Core Readings and a trip to Utopia.

Seminar 2/1 Defining Utopia

For many scholars utopianism and modernity define each other. In many works you will find the argument that the creation of More’s Utopia was a defining moment in the creation of the modern and that before him utopianism was not truly possible. You will also discover the idea that utopianism can be defined in two ways – in terms of content (the perfect non-place) and in terms of process (both the imagining and the realising of an altered and transformed state of being).

In this module we will explore Utopian places and processes, and explore the possibility that there were precursors to Utopia in both these senses. Perfect cities and dreams, visions and prophecies have a history which is much older than modernity, even if the word Utopia was indeed an invention of Thomas More and his friends.

What is Utopia?

• As a concept

• As a genre

What is the relationship between utopias, utopianism and history?

• In the impulse to create utopias

• In their use of history

*History of the Human Sciences 2003; 16; 1 – a special issue of the journal devoted entirely to the subject of Utopias. See esp. the introduction by Ruth Levitas, ‘Introduction: The Elusive Idea of Utopia’, online

*Gregory Claeys, and L. T. Sargent (eds), The Utopia reader (1999) including their Introduction. Or

Lyman Tower Sargent, 'Authority & Utopia: Utopianism in Political Thought'

Polity, Vol. 14, No. 4. (Summer, 1982), pp. 565-584.

Mark Goldie, ‘Obligations, utopias and their historical context’, Historical Journal 26 (1983), 727-46 – historiographical review article.

And see further reading suggested under General and Ethics in the booklet of further readings.

2/2 Field Trip to Utopia – meet 1.45 for 2pm at King’s Manor

“Sir Raymond Unwin, a famous British architect and town planner who put his social-welfare beliefs into practice by designing, with his partner Barry Parker, decent small dwellings and putting his mind to the perennial problems of town planning. Educated at Oxford, Unwin went on to study engineering and architecture, becoming acquainted early on with William Morris and his work. The first dwellings by Unwin and Parker (his partner from 1896) are direct descendants of the Arts & Crafts tradition; their schemes for New Earswick (for Rowntree) and Letchworth Garden City betray similar roots while formalizing the “garden-suburb” principles. From 1907 Unwin and Parker largely followed their own careers, Unwin’s interests in town planning reflected in his influential book Town Planning in Practice. As well as lecturing, Sir Raymond Unwin worked for various government departments and was President of the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning (1928-31) and the RIBA (1931-3). Sir Raymond Unwin was knighted in 1932.” [12 January 2010]

Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust:

Joseph Rowntree Foundation :

Mark Swenarton, Homes fit for heroes : the politics and architecture of early state housing in Britain (1981) – references to New Earswick, Raymond Unwin, Garden villages.

See also the Reading for seminar 8/1 Read more!

Comparative Utopias

There are three broad ways of thinking comparatively:

Diachronic comparison – ideas develop in a linear fashion over time. Karl Popper rejected the Platonic tradition in part because of his criticism of diachronic historical criticsm.

Synchronic comparison – ideas are to be explained within the context of events and conditions of their own time. See J. C. Davis and Quentin Skinner.

Anachronism – ideas can take on new and possibly unintended meanings in a new context or for a new audience. This is particularly relevant, I believe, to thinking comparatively about Utopias. Later audiences may have misunderstood More’s intentions or empathised with aspects of his work in ways he did not intend – does that matter? (Jameson, Jacoby, Kumar) Read more!

Practise Questions

Practice Questions

1. Do you agree that Thomas More’s Utopia does not fit well into the genre of recognised utopian writing?

2. Does science perfect or corrupt human nature? Discuss in relation to the treatment of this paradox in at least two utopian works or projects.

3. Is dreaming necessary? Discuss in relation to at least two imagined utopias.

4. Why is architecture so important to the achievement of Utopian ideas? Discuss in relation to at least two utopian projects or works.

5. Compare and contrast More and Morris’s treatment of History in Utopia and News from Nowhere.

6. Is the rediscovery of Plato a sufficient explanation of utopian writing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?

7. Compare and contrast More and Morris’s engagement with contemporary politics in Utopia and News from Nowhere.

8. How socialist is Morris’s utopia?

9. Why do so many utopias depend on the discovery or imagination of a new world?

10. Based on your study of past utopias, how would you predict the future of utopian writing. Read more!

List of Seminars (by week) Spring Term 2010


2/1 Defining Utopia and thinking comparatively
2/2 Field Trip to Utopia – meet 1.45 for 2pm at King’s Manor

Part One: The Texts and their Authors
3/1 Thomas More’s Utopia I
3/2 Thomas More’s Utopia II

4/1 William Morris, News from Nowhere, I
4/2 William Morris, News from Nowhere, II

Part Two: Influences and Contexts
5/1 Classical and Medieval Utopias: Perfect Cities and Saints
5/2 Classical and Medieval Utopias: Dreams, fantasies and paradoxes.
6/1 Renaissance neo-Platonism and science: Campanella, Bacon, Swift
6/2 Utopia in the New World: from Harrington to Oneida
7/1 Utopia in the Old World: socialists and utopians.
7/2 Utopia and the making of modernity: Bellamy and Butler.
8/1 Modernism and the construction of Utopia

Part Three: Utopias and their critics in Contemporary History
8/2 Anti-utopianism and the ‘end of history’.
9/1 Science Fiction, Digital Utopias and Utopia Reborn
9/2 Revision Class Read more!

Utopias 2010

Welcome to a new version of the Comparative Special Subject on Utopias. The structure of the module is very different from the last time that I taught it (which was the first time it ran) and so many of the older posts will not necessarily be relevant to you, the new intake.  Nevertheless there are a large number of useful links on this website - and you may be interested to see some of the conversations of the last group - who were absolutely first class, in every sense of the term. Have fun! Read more!