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Dystopian Literature

6. A History of Dystopia: 20th-21st Centuries

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In this module, we continue to trace the history of the dystopian novel, focusing in this module on the events of the twentieth century and the so-called 'dystopian turn'. As we move through the module, we consider: (i) the application of the principles of industrial efficiency (introduced in the previous module) to warfare and genocide in the First and Second World Wars and the Holocaust; (ii) the response to historical events in works such as Katharine Burdekin's Swastika Night (1937) and Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle (1963); (iii) the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), and the concept of the end of history; (iv) the emergence of cyberpunk in the 1980s, its key features and important works, e.g. William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984), Dave Eggers' The Circle (2013); (v) the emergence of steampunk, and its relation to cyberpunk; and (vi) the growth of young adult dystopia, its key themes and preoccupations, and the reasons for its popularity.


In this course, Professor Nicole Pohl (Oxford Brookes University) provides an introduction to and overview of dystopian literature. In the first module, we introduce the concepts of 'utopia' and 'dystopia' themselves, as well as the idea of dystopias as "utopias which have decayed". In the second and third modules, we think about two major types of dystopia – dystopias of totalitarian control (e.g. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four) and dystopias of environmental collapse (e.g. H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds). In the fourth module, we explore the connection between dystopia and satire, looking in particular at Thomas More's Utopia (1516), before turning in the fifth and sixth modules to consider the history of dystopia from the first use of the word in the mid-18th century to the emergence of young adult dystopian fiction in the 21st. In the seventh and final module, we consider two emerging trends in dystopian fiction today – climate change fiction (or 'cli-fi', for short) and solarpunk.


Prof. Nicole Pohl is Professor in Early Modern Literature and Critical Theory at Oxford Brookes University. Her research focuses on utopias and utopianism.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Pohl, N. (2022, May 12). Dystopian Literature - A History of Dystopia: 20th-21st Centuries [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pohl, N. "Dystopian Literature – A History of Dystopia: 20th-21st Centuries." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 May 2022,

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