Utopias: Visions of the World

(Summer, 2011)


PYSC/SOCI 4900: Senior Overview: Utopias


Dr. Linda M. Woolf

Office Hours:


Course Description:

Utopian speculation is often used in stimulating people to confront social and philosophical problems and to commit themselves to imaginative solutions to them. It can also help to bring various fields of knowledge into meaningful relationships affording new perspectives from which to view past, present, and future experience. When the speculation takes place in small groups of people working together to designing an imaginary commune or intentional community, it can contribute to the understanding and tolerance of divergent points of view and foster felowship, cooperation, and compromise in reaching group decisions.

In this seminar, we will read and analyze some of these utopian visions. We will examine whether these visions represent models of utopia or perhaps, rather represent dystopian nighmares of worlds yet to be. We will then view these utopian visions through the lens of research.

Note that this course is being offered as an hybrid class. In other words, although there are scheduled class meetings, a good share of the class will be conducted online via Blackboard. As such, make sure you take note of both the online and in-class schedules presented below.

Course Objectives:

These course objectives provide the content outline for the course. However, the Senior Overview Learning Goals and Outcomes are primary for this course.
  1. To examine the nature of utopia and dystopian thought as presented by behavioral and social scientists (as well as others).

  2. To analyze the function that utopian and dystopian thought in the modern world.

  3. To critique the benefits and limitations inherent in utopian ideals.

Senior Overview Course Learning Goals and Outcomes

  1. Learning Goal: Students will examine a topic in-depth from multiple theoretical perspectives and grounded in the psychological/sociological research.

  2. Learning Outcome: Use concepts and language from multiple theoretical perspectives to account for phenomena being examined in the senior overview. You should be able to demonstrate your knowledge of the various psychological/sociological perspectives and research you have learned during your undergraduate years in your major.

  3. Learning Outcome: Compare and contrast major perspectives. All discussion must be grounded in the research literature.

  4. Learning Outcome: Integrate theoretical and research perspectives to produce comprehensive and multifaceted explanations. You should be able to apply all of the information you have learned through your undergraduate years to the various projects, discussions, and presentations in this class.

  5. Learning Goal: Students will understand and apply principles from the psychological/sociological research to intrapersonal, interpersonal, social, and/or organizational issues.

  6. Learning Outcome: Identify appropriate applications of research literature in solving problems.

  7. Learning Outcome: Articulate how principles grounded in the research literature can be used to explain social issues and inform public policy.

  8. Learning Outcome: Recognize that ethically complex situations can develop in the application of research and theoretical principles.

  9. Learning Goal: Students will actively participate in their learning and communicate effectively in a variety of formats.

  10. Learning Outcome: Demonstrate effective writing skills in various formats (e.g, written discussion format and papers) for various purposes (informing, defending, discussing, communicating).

  11. Learning Outcome: Demonstrate effective oral communication skills in various formats (e.g., class discussion, presentation) and for various purposes (e.g. explaining, defending, teaching).

  12. Learning Outcome: Demonstrate effective interpersonal communication skills of listening accurately and actively.

Class Meetings:

The class will on Mondays 5:30 - 9:30 on selected dates and online each week via Blackboard. Attendance and active participation is required in all scheduled class meetings and online.

Course Requirements:

Participation in class, participation in the online discussions (based on discussion questions provided by the professor and fellow students), four response papers (based on questions provided by the professor), a class presentation, and a final paper.

All grades will be assigned on a scale of 0 - 10 with:

90 - 100A-,AExcellent
80 - 89B-,B,B+Above Average
70 - 79C-,C,C+Average
Less than 70FFailing

Percent of Grade:

In-Class Participation5%
Blackboard Class Discussions15%
Short Response Papers40%
Final Paper20%

In-Class Participation: Please realize that your participation in this class is extremely important. As this class is conducted as a seminar, you and your fellow classmates are interdependent in the course. Participation will include not only attendance but active participation (e.g., discussion). Please be aware that missing class (either excused or unexcused absences) will impact your grade in this area.

Blackboard Class Discussion: Discussion questions have been posted for each week and each student will add one new question in relation to their book (ideally based on ideas related to their presentation). When you are reading the books, keep these questions in mind and jot down your thoughts for discussion. Each week, respond to each of the questions posted to the list. You must post a minimum two or more times to each of the questions and also respond to the posts of your colleagues. You must ground your answers in the research literature. It is not enough to simply state an opinion. You should engage in scholarly discussion with your colleagues in class and demonstrate the knowledge you have attained during your undergraduate education and ability to apply that information to the books and questions. Make sure that you don't just simply respond to a question and ignore your colleagues comments. Read their comments and respond to what they write as well. These should be discussions. Grading of the discussions will be based both on quantity and quality. The following criteria applies:

A: An excellent post will fulfill the assignment requirements, using evidence from the research literature, develop ideas comprehensively, and demonstrate mastery of the concepts as applied to the questions. A superior posting will reveal a creative engagement with the topics. When responding to a colleagues comments, an excellent response will use the conversation starters to deepen discussion. This level of response will show an interest in extending the conversation about the topic and inviting information that draws others into the discussion.

B: A good post will fulfill assignment requirements but use personal opinion or preference more often then research evidence to develop ideas (however, research has been included). This level of posting will discuss some of the concepts and research but with minimal depth. When responding to a colleague, a good response will demonstrate an understanding of the previous post, contribute to the discussion, include new ideas but involve only minimal inclusion of new research to the topic.

C: An average post will rely largely on personal opinion but include some reference to the research literature. An average post will show little depth or scholarly creativity. When responding to a colleagues comments, an average post will demonstrate understanding of the previous post, include new ideas and thoughts but not add new research to the discussion.

D: An poor post will show minimal engagement with the topic, little reference to the research, and a poor grasp of the concepts. This level of response to colleagues is perfunctory indicating more of an interest in getting the assignment done than generating spirited discussion.

F: An unacceptable post only will rely on personal opinion, demonstrate little knowledge of the material or research literature, and contribute little to the discussion. Little response to colleagues postings.

Each week, I will largely "listen" to the conversations and only occasionally jump into the discussion. At the end of the week, I will provide some general thoughts and also send each of you your discussion grade with feedback. Remember that the goal of the senior overview is for you, the student, to provide me with a good sense of all that you have learned during your undergraduate years and also how well you can research new topics as needed. These discussions should demonstrate a high level of scholarship. Note that each week is graded based on dates (see the schedule below). Hence, any late participation in a discussion, albeit interesting, will not count towards the participation/discussion grade.

Short Response Papers: Each week includes a set of response questions. You will be required to respond to a portion of the questions (for example, two out of four). These will be sent to me directly for grading (woolflm@webster.edu) and NOT to the list. You must respond to at least four out of the seven sets of questions. If you respond to more than four, the four heighest grades will be used in computing your final grade. All papers should be written in APA format. Send to Linda M. Woolf. Make sure you are aware of the deadlines for each paper as late assignments will experience a drop in letter grade for each day late.

Presentation: Each student will be responsible for the presentation of one of the texts discussed in class. Students will provide an overview of the major theoretical perspectives identified in the book and also evaluate the book in relation to the research literature on one or more of topics. Do NOT simply provide a synopsis of book (this will result in a failing grade). Everyone should come to class prepared to discuss the books being presented each week (indeed, I may have small pass/fail quizzes on each book to count towards participation). Hence, no overview of the book itself should be needed. Students will provide the class with an outline of their presentation, a list of additional readings, a reference list for material used in the presentation, and discussion questions. As this is a Senior Overview, you should draw from your previous coursework when preparing for this presentation as well as demonstrate the ability to draw on the current research literature and relate it to your book.

Final Paper: You will be required to design a utopia. This assignment will force you to analyze the idea of utopia. What are the fundamental characteristics that you believe make up a utopia? What problems are you trying to solve and why? Further guidelines are posted. You can also share and discuss ideas with each other by creating a discussion thread on Blackboard.

Some specific areas you will be addressing include

  1. Education, methods, and beliefs
  2. Politics, authority, and freedom
  3. The good life
  4. physical plan
  5. economics
  6. human relations and morality
  7. Human nature, science, and technology
  8. Religion
  9. Art, beauty, and creativity

A final assignment document with extensive detail concerning the form, structure, and requirements is on eReserve at the library and will be discussed in class. The final paper should be written in APA format and must be submitted electronically in Word format. Send to Linda M. Woolf: woolflm@webster.edu

Policy Statements:

Plagiarism (attempting to pass off the work of another as one's own) is not acceptable. Plagiarism includes copying all or part of another's writings (even a single sentence), inappropriate paraphrasing, using another student's paper as your own, submitting a paper for more than one class. All papers will be submitted to the university's plagiarism database for review. Plagiarism, either intentional or unintentional, will result in a grade of 0 for that assignment and will be turned over to the appropriate university source for disciplinary action. In addition, cheating on exams will also result in the same fate.

Here are some Web sites that will help you avoid the problem of plagiarism particularly plagiarism resulting from paraphrasing too closely to the original source. -

Late withdraws from this class will not be approved by the instructor except in cases of emergency discussed with the instructor. No late withdraws will be approved on the basis of poor class performance.

This syllabus is subject to change at the instructor's discretion. All changes concerning course requirements will be provided in writing. Changes concerning exam dates may be made at the instructor's discretion and communicated verbally to the class.

It is understood that remaining in this course (not dropping or withdrawing from this course) constitutes an agreement to abide by the terms outlined in this syllabus and an acceptance of the requirements outlined in this document.



June 6 - June 12What is a utopia?

Walden Two by Burrhus Frederic Skinner

June 13 - June 19Herland by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman
June 20 - June 26 People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia by Michael I. Niman
June 27 - July 3Brave New World
July 4 - July 10Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson
July 11 - July 17 The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia
July 18 - 24Kirinyaga : A Fable of Utopia


June 6Introduction to the class!
June 13No class
June 20 Presentations: Walden Two & Herland
June 27Presentations: People of the Rainbow & Brave New World
July 4Happy 4th of July!
July11Presentations: Pacific Edge & Dispossessed
July 18No Class
July 25Presentation: Kirinyaga
Final Course Wrap-Up!

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