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Interdisciplinary Learning Courses

Utopia, Dystopia, and Science Fiction

Utopia, Dystopia, and Science Fiction Utopia, Dystopia, and Science Fiction
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Interdisciplinary Learning CoursessUtopia, Dystopia, and Science Fiction

In this interdisciplinary course we will journey together in search of alternate tomorrows, investigating just what it is that they can teach us about the hopes and fears of society today.

This course will explore in detail the fascinating genres of science fiction (SF), utopia and dystopia as they emerge in different media forms, from literature and film to television series and graphic novels. After contextualizing utopia/dystopia as subgenres of SF, each week we will analyze and debate different, exemplary cases, from classics of the genre to the most innovative, cutting-edge work of today. From space travel to cyborgs to pandemics and post-apocalyptic futures, we will immerse ourselves in the speculative worlds which continue to capture the imagination of people worldwide.

Alongside our direct engagement with the selected texts and films, in this course we will also explore the historical contexts for the popularity of the different genres of science fiction, utopia and dystopia. Why are utopias more popular in the early 20th century, and why do dystopias suddenly gain in popularity in the 1980s? What shifts in cultural anxieties can we trace in the evolution of SF and dystopia from the 1980s to today? Together we will work to find answers to questions such as these, expanding our ability to critically evaluate works of art, as well as to understand the radical potential inherent in these forms.

Learning objectives

  • Develop the ability to put works of art and criticism in different mediums (film, literature, television, comic, theory) into a productive dialogue with each other.
  • Learn to identify latent social hopes and anxieties in popular forms of art.
  • Cultivate a vocabulary in English to facilitate critical engagement with an interdisciplinary range of texts, both theoretical and artistic.
  • Widen the critical gaze in order to trace historical patterns as they manifest themselves in different artistic contexts.
  • Gain an appreciation for the genres of SF, utopia and dystopia as forms of art which are not merely escapist, understanding their inherently political (and potentially radical) nature.

Contents of the Subject

Utopia, Dystopia, and Science Fiction

  • 1. Introduction to utopianism and course overview
  • 2. Utopia in its historical context: pre-20th century
  • 3. Societal change and utopia in the early 20th century
  • 4. Social anxieties and the first dystopias
  • 5. Feminist utopias
  • 6. Science Fiction and the utopian impulse
  • 7. Science fiction and the 1970s Part 2
  • 8. Transition to the 1980s and the death of the future
  • 9. The 1980s: dystopia and the rise of cyberpunk
  • 10. Popularization of the genre(s) in media and film
  • 11. Other media: the graphic novel and adaptations
  • 12. Contemporary social issues 1: capital and social atomization
  • 13. Contemporary social issues 2: gender and race
  • 14. Contemporary social issues 3: (bio)technology
  • 15. State of the art: the reemergence of utopia?


Trevor Westmoreland Professor of Utopia, Dystopia, and Science Fiction

Trevor Westmoreland

California native with a lifelong interest in the speculative worlds of science fiction, fantasy and utopia/dystopia. Holds a BA in English literature from UC Santa Barbara and a Masters in Literary Studies from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, currently in the final stages of a doctoral thesis at the UAM on the function of space and time in contemporary American novels. Has several publications related to both literary spaces and the liminal, and is an organizer of an annual seminar on literature and liminality. Fields of interest include questions of space and time, ontology, gender, utopia/dystopia and critical theory. As a teacher of language, has over ten years of experience and is mostly recently associated with the University Francisco de Vitoria and the ILM of the Universidad Antonio de Nebrija. Has also given workshops related to the process of investigation for TFGs and TFMs as well as academic writing in English for researchers and university professors.