Political Theory Through Science Fiction: Utopias, Dystopias and Allegories

Course Description

In this course, students will read classic works of political theory alongside works of science fiction which, in their own way, have something to say about the enduring questions of political philosophy. What constitutes ‘the good life’? What makes rule legitimate? What are the sources of injustice and domination, and what would it take to build a society based on neither?

Fictional dystopias (like those depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and the short stories of Phillip K. Dick) speak to us pointedly about present realities, giving us enough distance on the social and political world to see it in a new way. Reading texts by theorists like Hobbes, Nietzsche, and Foucault alongside more creative pieces by Franz Kafka, Ursula K. Le Guin, and N. K. Jemisin, we will consider how these works might allow us to think differently about contemporary political challenges including mass incarceration, surveillance technologies, racism, patriarchy and environmental destruction. We will also cover some of the important formal elements and genre conventions that the fictional works rely on, in order to better appreciate what these writers are up to and how they accomplish it.

We will consider the artistic as well as the philosophical qualities of these works, and as such this class may be of particular interest to those with an interest in creative writing, film, politics, philosophy, race, gender studies, or social criticism.

In this course, students will:

  • Practice close reading as a method of engaging with complex texts
  • Learn how to put multiple texts in conversation with one another
  • Become familiar with some of the key thinkers and topics in political theory
The skills learned in this class are highly transferable, and will be useful in almost any undergraduate humanities course.


There are no prerequisites for this course. Students are asked to bring an open mind, and to come prepared to engage in serious discussion about these texts with their peers.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 18, 2022 - August 05, 2022
Duration: 3 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 12:15P-3:05P
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): Rachel Nusbaum
Course Number: 10265