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250186 Utopias in education (S) (WiSe 2019/2020)

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“The utopian mode is to the existence of society what invention is to scientific knowledge. The utopian mode may be defined as the imaginary project of another kind of society, of another reality, another world.” (Ricoeur, 1976, 24)

First used in a book by Thomas More (1516), utopia is commonly defined as an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. The term, based on the Greek ou ‘not’ and topos ‘place’ (= no place), has known multiple interpretations, uses and modifications across time.
By adopting an interdisciplinary approach, this seminar draws on literature, history, sociology, and philosophy in order to uncover the multiple meanings and importance of utopias and utopian thinking applied to the educational sphere. We will have a look at both classical literary and modern utopias in their relationship to education and school. We will then try to identify and analyze together current utopias in education, understood as “(partially) realized utopias” (Ricoeur, 1976). Moreover, examples of utopian, or intentional, communities, utopian pedagogies (Freire, 1972), and progressive education will be addressed throughout the seminar. We will further touch on various terms: “abstract and concrete utopias”, “creative utopia”, “uchronia”, “pathologies of utopia”, “utopias of escape”, “utopias of reconstruction”, “utopian method”, “heterotopia”.
Among others, we will discuss questions such as:
• How ideal education has been seen across the ages?
• How education is configured within the utopian thinking and texts? And what the different forms of utopian expression (books, articles, movies) teach us about the manner in which society is imagined at some point in time?
• Which models of social change are entangled within modern utopian experiments in education? How one can understand educational utopias in countries from the Global South?
• As a particular case study, which relationship could we establish between the contemporary movement towards inclusive education and imaginary rethinking/repairing of society?

The seminar aims:
• to give preliminary knowledge on the literary genre of utopia
• to encourage students engage with the texts we are reading, to better understand their background, and challenge their thinking
• to better understand and analyze modern and contemporary utopian discourses and educational practices as articulations of “spaces of experience” and “horizons of expectations” (Koselleck, 2004).
• to offer students guidance towards critical thinking on present and future alternative practices in education.

The seminar also intends to mobilize previous Bielefeld knowledge resources, as we will have a closer look firstly to the creation of LaborSchule and secondly, to the project of the “History of the Function of Literary Utopias in the Early Modern Period,” conducted from 1980 to 1981 by an international research group at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF).
Students will finally gain experience of undertaking preliminary analysis tasks in order to better engage with rigorous research. Multimedia content forms, such as text, audio, images, animations or video, will assist our inquiry about the utopian discourses and practices in education.

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Selected readings
X- indicates highly recommended texts

Comenius, J.A. (1657). The Great Didactic (Didactica Magna) [written 1627–38], as translated by M. W. Keatinge (1896). Available at:
X- Dewey, J. (1933). Dewey outlines utopian schools. The New York Times. Available at:
Elias, N. (1983). What is the role of scientific and literary utopias for the future?, in Esssays I: On the Sociology of Knowledge and the Sciences. Dublin: UCD Press, 2009 (Collected Works, vol. 14), pp. 269-287.
Foucault, M. (1986). Of Other Spaces. Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986), 22-27.
Freire, P. (1972). Cultural Action for Freedom. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
X- Grinberg, S. M. & Machado, M. L. (2019). School in the (im)possibility of future: Utopia and its territorialities, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51:3, 322-334,
Koselleck, R. (2002). The Temporalization of Utopia. In R. Koselleck, The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts, trans. T. S. Presener et al. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Koselleck, R. (2004). Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. New York: Columbia University Press.
X- More, T., & Turner, P. (1965). Utopia. London: Penguin Books.
Mubi Brighenti, A. (2018). Utopia without plans. On Deligny, autistic children, and living spots. lo Squaderno no. 50. 45-47.
Neill, A.S. (1960). Summerhill: A radical approach to child rearing, Oxford: Hart. Available at:
X- Ricoeur, P. (1976). Ideology and Utopia as Cultural Imagination. Philosophic Exchange: Vol. 7: No. 1, Article 5. Available at:
Rousseau, J.J. (1921). Emile, or Education. Translated by Barbara Foxley, M.A. (London & Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1921; New York: E.P. Dutton, 1921). Available at:


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