Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation argues that the representation of legal violence—punishment—is an essential definitional axis to utopian literature. Utopian scholarship tends to position the political or economic system that a text imagines as the key determinant of that text’s identity as a Utopia, a dystopia, or an anti-Utopia. I propose instead that the propensity of the imaginary society to inflict violence in a legal or official context defines its utopian or dystopian quality. Through an analysis of twentieth and twenty-first century Anglophone utopian novels and stories by George Orwell, Octavia E. Butler, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Adam Roberts, and Kelley Eskridge, among others, I show that utopian texts must always define their position vis-à-vis punitive practices and institutions. In so doing, this project examines the impact that carceral imageries hold over our collective ability to imagine possible social alternatives. In the context of increasing mass incarceralization and the expansion of the penal sphere, Carceral Dreams teases out the cultural contradictions within our relationship with punishment in the literature social nightmares.



Committee Chair

Freedman, Carl

Available for download on Friday, February 27, 2026