Literary Studies (LTST) 639

Human Perfectibility: Utopian and Pastoral Perspectives (Revision 1)


Permanently closed, effective December 22, 2016.

Delivery Mode: Grouped study

Credits: 3

Prerequisite: None

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Program: Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies

**Note: Students in Group Study courses are advised that this syllabus may vary in key details in each instance of the course. Always refer to the Moodle site for the most up-to-date details on texts, assignment structure, and grading.**


The idea of human perfectibility through intelligence was developed during the European Enlightenment by thinkers such as Rousseau and Godwin. It was meant to counter the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, the idea that humanity is so fundamentally flawed as to be incapable of achieving perfection. In imaginative literature perfect societies are either rationally-planned utopian cities like Plato’s Republic or More’s Utopia, situated in the future or some remote location, or Arcadian pastoral gardens. On earth, paradise, whether it be early childhood, the Garden of Eden or a prehistoric Golden Age, is connected with the idea of human perfection as innocence that got lost through violation of taboos or surrendered in a social contract where people give up some freedom in exchange for the security of government and law provided by a State. Pastoral utopias like Morris’s News From Nowhere depict a return to past perfection (without industrial technology) whereas urban utopias are imagined as progress through rational perfectibility (often with intensive use of technology) to an ideal future. The last century produced the dystopia, or failed utopia, in which satire, present to some degree in the works of Plato and More because they contrasted ideal human virtues with our failure to realize them, became predominant. Brave New World and 1984 undermine utopian dreaming and progressivist thinking by showing the ultimate triumph of vice, folly and evil as the intended perfect state degenerates into its opposite, a tyranny symbolized (in 1984) by “a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

Course Objectives

This thematic course will add to the literary, cultural, and social offerings of the MA-IS Program, focusing on a perennial issue (human perfectibility) with texts from a significant range of eras, and crossing historical, national, and cultural periods and boundaries. It is a theme that returns with energy, receiving new treatment in successive historical periods and in varying social, cultural, and political contexts. It will supplement all courses in the Literary and Cultural Studies focus areas, as well as a range of courses in other focus areas, particularly in Global Change and Community Studies, and in courses relating to social theory, such as MAIS 601, GLST 611: Social Movements; and SOCI 537: Deciphering our Social Worlds.

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 per cent. Students should be familiar with the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies grading system. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

Course Activity Weighting
Online Participation 20%
Individual Presentionation on one Course Unit 20%
Major Essay Proposal 10%
Major Essay 50%
Total 100%

Course Materials

The course materials for LTST 639: Human Perfectibility and Utopias include the items listed below. If you find that any items are missing from your course package, please contact the Course Materials Production department at Athabasca University as soon as possible. You may call Athabasca University, toll free, from anywhere in Canada or the United States at 1-800-788-9041 and ask to speak to someone in Course Materials Production (ext. 6366). Students in the Edmonton and Calgary dialling areas are asked to call the Learning Centres to connect with the automated attendant, and then dial the four-digit extension. You may send e-mail to, or write to Course Materials Production at Tim Byrne Centre, 4001 Hwy 2 South, Athabasca AB T9S 1A4.


Hugh Howey, Wool pub. 2012. (Simon & Schuster paperback, 2013) ISBN-13: 978- 1476733951

Athabasca University Online Materials

Course Home Page You will find Course Information (including the Assignment File and other pertinent information) at the top of the course home page. You will also find your Study Guide presented unit by unit online. You will find your assignments and links to submit your work to your professor on the course home page.
Athabasca University Library: Students are encouraged to browse the Library's Web site to review the Library collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools:

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Expected to open in January, 2015.