University of Leicester
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Utopia’s quest from somewhere to everywhere: Humanitarian thought-experiment or expansionist blueprint?

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posted on 2017-01-16, 16:42 authored by Mahmood Nawzad Khoshnaw
This thesis investigates four utopias, Plato’s Republic, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, and H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia, in relation to postcolonial criticisms that present them as outlining ostensibly ‘universal’ values and as being inherently colonial, expansionist, and imperialist. This critique is often applied to the utopian genre as a whole, yet while widespread and popular, it is often in contrast with the ideas contained and measures proposed within the texts. In fact, a close reading shows that they resist such generalisations. The key themes investigated in each of these texts are: how they characterise their utopian people; how they construct their utopias physically; how they manage them in terms of education, law, family, and economics; how they imagine and map their boundaries; and, finally, how they view and interact with the ‘other’ – the non-utopian. These four canonical texts often outline philosophies and proposals intended for the benefit of humanity as a whole, which might be misinterpreted by some as imperialist in intent. It will be argued, however, that there is also a strong but under-recognised tendency within them not to expand, conquer, and incorporate, as commonly thought, but instead to withdraw and contract, a dynamic of non-interference. Along the way, it will be necessary to negotiate the difficult, slippery status of these texts, about which the reader is never fully clear whether they were intended to be taken as literal blueprints for real future societies, as non-committal thought-experiments, or as ‘mere’ literary entertainments.



Richards, Simon; Rawlinson, Mark

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of History of Art and Film

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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