Utopia’s Eclipse? The Horizon of Political Hope in the Wake of Empire and Revolution

University of Chicago, Winter 2021-

PLSC 22205 / LLSO 22205 / CRES 23205

The twentieth century was a time of extraordinary political hope associated with socialist and anti-colonial struggles that promised to usher in new forms of human freedom. However, by the 1980s, this hope had given way to catastrophe as the horizons of political possibility and revolutionary aspiration characterizing these struggles collapsed. How do we reckon with this collapse, and what does it mean to make a life for oneself in the wake of these failed emancipatory projects? 


This course seeks to explore this question by examining the place of utopian thinking, broadly understood, in the projects of anticolonial and socialist struggle in the twentieth century and by reading this strain of thought in light of the doubts that certain thinkers have raised about the possibility of attaining utopia’s promise. Taking as a starting point the idea that utopian thinking—at least in its modern, universalistic form—has always existed in a complex relationship to the figure of the “savage Other” and the project of Western imperialism, the first half of the course will invite students to test this claim against the aspirations advanced by certain anti-colonial and left revolutionaries. In the second half of the course, we will turn to contemporary debates about the possibilities of renewed utopian thinking in the present. In particular, we will examine some important recent reflections on the postcolonial predicament to consider what we might learn from the revolutionary failures of the twentieth century and what critical resources this history has yielded to us.

Empire and Colonialism in the Modern World

Harvard University, Spring 2016-2019


This tutorial will expose students to the scholarship on modern empire from across the fields of anthropology, history, law, and political science. Students will be asked to consider the differences and commonalities in empires across space and time. They will also explore how relations of empire and colonialism were constituted through structures of law and of economic relations, as well as how notions of race and culture were shaped by imperial encounters. Finally, the readings for this tutorial will introduce students to a range of methodological approaches to the study of empire, and will invite them to consider the strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches.