Fall, Winter, 2005-2006

We have it in our power to begin the world over again.
– Tom Paine


A map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.
– Oscar Wilde



Robert Smurr, Sem. II, C 3112 (867-5056 );
Nancy Koppelman, Lab II, 2255 (867-6383);

CORE connector: Julie Slone; 867-5620 LIB 2133;


Program Schedule | Required Texts | Assignments | Credit Policy & Requirements | Course Resources


Classes will be held at the following locations and times:

Monday: Lecture 9:00-11:00; Sem II, E1105
              Seminar 2:00- 4:00; Nancy: Sem II, C3107 — Rob: Sem II, C3109

Wednesday: Film/Discussion 9:00-1:00; LH4
Also:             Two Extra Seminars: Jan 18 and Feb 22, 3:00-5:00
                     Nancy: Sem II, C3107 — Rob: Sem II, C3109

Friday: Seminar 9:00-11:00; Nancy: Sem II, D2107 — Rob: Sem II, D2109
            Workshop 2:00-4:00; Sem II, D1107

Note: Office hours are arranged by appointment.



We invite new students at all levels to join Consuming Utopia this winter. During fall quarter, the program studied the history and philosophy of environmentalism, and the history of labor and consumption in the United Statues. Using the concept of Utopia as our threshold into the intersections among these topics, we asked what the good life has to do with goods. We embraced the idea that human work—by pre-colonial native peoples as much as factory farmers—is integral to the natural environment, and that a viable sustainability celebrates both culture and nature. We learned that contemporary protectors of nature are both indebted to previous environmental thinkers, and, in important ways, have been stymied politically by their legacies. Throughout these studies, we examined how people thought about and interacted with the natural environment, a course of inquiry that will continue to be a central focus.

During winter quarter, we will examine and evaluate a wide range of responses and challenges to consumer culture, environmental degradation, and modernity broadly conceived, both at home and abroad. Our texts will follow five themes: European and American intellectual history since the 18 th century; American literary, artistic, and fictional works; escapists and dropouts; analyses of environmental crises; and forms of activism. Texts, guest speakers, films, and workshops will help us to understand how particular individuals have responded to modernity, and offer models of critical engagement. In all this work, we will address an abiding practical and ethical question: How can I do something meaningful to improve this world?

Our themes also provide the framework for students’ writing. Each student will write a term paper on a particular person of his or her choice whose response to the ills we study inspires respect: a philosopher, an intellectual, an artist, a writer, a musician, a dropout, a simple life advocate, a historian, an environmental activist, a consumer advocate, a business leader, a spiritual leader, a lawyer, a feminist, a farmer. We will examine how and why they developed their responses and, at times, solutions, to problems which can be masked by a modern belief in “progress.” We will learn to understand and evaluate their efforts to improve the world. The term paper will be written in several stages. Research and writing groups will convene based on common themes among your chosen subjects. Groups will present their work at the end of the quarter.


New students are required to complete the following readings and participate in two student-led catch-up seminars as follows:

For Wednesday, January 11: William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness.”

Susan Strasser, Waste and Want, Chapter 1

For Wednesday, January 25: Jennifer Price, “Looking for Nature at the Mall”

Nordhaus and Shellenberger, “The Death of Environmentalism”



What is utopia? Is it the freedom of wilderness, the convenience of Wal-Mart, or something in between? Visions of a perfect world take many forms, but a theme common to all utopian societies is a land of plenty in which people exist harmoniously and effortlessly amidst a bountiful and benign natural world. What, then, does the good life have to do with goods?

Join us as we learn about environmental, social and political efforts to improve the human condition, and the beneficial and detrimental consequences of those efforts. American society is a unique political experiment that has proven long on innovations in everything from automobiles to disposable coffee cups, yet short on appreciation for the limits of its resources. Our society has become wedded to consumption and economic growth. We spend money on everything from water to gasoline to eco-tours, but something in us still suspects that the best things in life are – or ought to be – free. We Americans are creatures of these tensions. Consuming Utopia will analyze the roots of these tensions as well as the utopian visions they have inspired. The program invites students who wish to embrace a sense of wonder, look at the planet anew and critically explore ways to improve the relationship between people and the lands that sustain us.

In the fall, we will learn about what North America was like when most people produced the means of life directly through their own labor, and how daily life changed when most people began to work for wages and consume the means of life by spending money. We will also study utopian visions that responded to these developments and attempt to create responsible visions of our own. Throughout these studies, we will examine how people think about the natural environment. We will assume that human work – by pre-colonial native peoples as much as factory farmers – is integral to the natural environment, and that a viable sustainability celebrates both culture and nature. During winter quarter, the program will examine and evaluate a wide range of responses and challenges to consumer culture at home and abroad, with special attention paid to "misfits" and "rebels" who seek their own utopias in the non-western world. Our work will include overnight field trips that will ground the program's topics in first-hand experience. We will witness the stunning natural glory of Washington's coastal beaches and marvel at the power of human-built dams on the Columbia River. Diverse destinations, such as ancient forests, clear-cuts, mountains and shopping malls will instill in us profound respect for our remarkable-and remarkably threatened-planet. These journeys will enable us more fully to identify what we mean when we use words such as progress, wilderness, balance and recreation. Critical reading, writing and film viewing skills will be emphasized through weekly workshops, writing assignments and tutorials.


If you have a health condition or disability that may require accommodations in order to effectively participate in this class, please do one of the following:

- Contact the faculty after class
- Contact Access Services in Library 1407-D; 867-6348, or

Information about a disability or health condition will be regarded as confidential.



Evergreen is a smoke free campus, excluding the several designated smoking areas. If you do smoke, consider quitting. If you can’t or choose not to, please use the designated areas only. Students willfully disregarding this campus policy will be asked to leave the program.


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Last updated: February 2, 2006 © Robert Smurr. All Rights Reserved.