University of Leicester
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Altered States: Feminist Utopian Literature

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posted on 2012-12-14, 12:14 authored by Donna Fancourt
This thesis interrogates the interaction between feminist utopianism and altered states of consciousness in fiction from 1970 onwards. The thesis develops further both Lyman Tower Sargent's definition of utopianism as "social dreaming" and Tom Moylan's understanding of critical utopia. It also develops and expands Lucy Sargisson's definition of feminist utopianism as subversive, fluid, ambiguous and committed to ongoing personal and social transformation. Utopianism must challenge society's norms and values, offering both social critique and social vision. I argue throughout this work that transforming individual consciousness is a vital step towards social change. The thesis focuses on four altered states of consciousness: madness, dreaming, spirituality and telepathy. These states are situated within a theoretical context, and are then explicated further through close literary analysis of feminist utopian literature. Altered states offer a metaphor for the need to think differently, and highlight the importance of looking at society in new and alternative ways. In a significant number of feminist utopian texts, utopia is accessed through a dream or a vision, through spiritual meditation, telepathy, or a state of "madness". Within these texts, altered states are not only used as a means of accessing utopia but are also represented within the narrative as a means of maintaining or sustaining the utopian vision. Additionally, I show that altered states refers to the place of utopia, which is altered, or different to, contemporary society. The reader may also enter into an altered state through the process of reading the text, as their beliefs and assumptions about "the way things are" are challenged, denaturalised and subverted.


Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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