Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




I argue in this dissertation that utopianism is a vibrant form of cultural production in the post-Cold War period, despite the paucity of recent texts depicting €œgood€ societies. Most literary historical accounts of the genre place the decline of the utopian narrative in the early twentieth century, with a brief resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s. Contemporary culture has since become inundated with dystopian and post-apocalyptic visions of the future. If we take this generic distribution at face-value, it seems symptomatic of the utopian idea's retreat from cultural production since the 1980s. Influential critics have resisted this narrative by demonstrating that dystopian narratives can have utopian functions, but these arguments generally retain an investment in the traditional genre categories of utopia, anti-utopia, and dystopia that, I argue, are decreasingly useful in understanding the politics of contemporary speculative fiction. to navigate the political and generic complexity of contemporary speculative fiction, it is useful to conceptualize literary utopianism in discursive, rather than generic, terms. Utopian discourse, I argue, is a set of thematic and conceptual concerns, procedures of representation, and patterns of formal organization traceable through a wide range of speculative fiction texts that are invested in the politics of radical social betterment. This understanding of literary utopianism allows us to trace it through recent works of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, science fiction, and fantasy that otherwise may be illegible as utopian texts. Doing so reveals that hope is a major structure of feeling in speculative fiction today.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.