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Troubled Times and Lost Futures: Geographical Thought After Progress

Module titleTroubled Times and Lost Futures: Geographical Thought After Progress
Module codeGEO3145
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Leila Dawney (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

What does it mean to think about a better world? In a situation of climate anxiety, postcolonial melancholia and divisive politics, narratives of progress and hope are losing their grip. At the same time, modernity’s progressive reading of history has been roundly critiqued by decolonial, feminist and indigenous thinkers. In this module, we will consider the growth, problems and aftermath of progress modernity through a set of key conceptual texts, real-world examples and speculative thought-experiments.

Building on GEO2311 Ideas in Geography, this module offers opportunities for a more in-depth engagement with contemporary social, cultural and geographical theory.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module has four aims:
To extend students’ grounding in geographical thought by engaging with contemporary social, cultural and geographical theory.
To apply these emerging geographical ideas to a set of real-world problems.
To reflect upon how our own thinking, beliefs and ways of acting are influenced by Western, enlightenment ideas.
To understand how ideas of the future and futurity shape contemporary political movements and thought.
“Troubled times” is a reference to both the unilinear narratives of progress and social evolution that underpin the histories of geography, and the social, environmental and cultural consequences of industrialisation, colonialism and late capitalism. In the final part of the module, our concern with temporalities leads us to consider how possible futures are imagined in the wake of these problems of the present.
The teaching for the module is divided into three parts:
The first series of sessions will investigate progress modernity as a historical set of ideas that shaped the contemporary world, and consider the critiques of these ideas that have emerged during the second half of the twentieth century and beyond, including Black, indigenous, feminist and queer thought. The second part of the module explores some of the spaces through which this critique becomes apparent. In the final series, we will look at imaginaries of the future in the wake of these critiques.
Teaching is designed to give you confidence in critical reading and developing an argument in relation to your reading. Students will be asked to prepare for the session using one primary text and a range of other resources (films, articles and book excerpts).
Building on the 2nd year GEO2311 Ideas in Geography module, this module is recommended for students considering study at master’s level in a humanities or social science subject.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Situate contemporary movements in geographical thought within a broader history of ideas and critique
  • 2. Read, with confidence, primary philosophical and conceptual texts
  • 3. Reflect on how contemporary global problems relate to the dominance of particular ideas
  • 4. Develop an argument and write fluently and knowledgeably about geographical thought
  • 5. Understand how imaginaries of the future relate to contemporary forms of thought

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Understand and critique geographical and philosophical arguments and knowledges
  • 7. Understand and take responsibility for judging and creating geographical knowledge
  • 8. Communicate geographical ideas, principles and theories effectively
  • 9. Understand how the conceptual themes in this module relate to geographical knowledge in other modules and in your dissertation

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Develop a critical and reflexive relationship to your own knowledge and subjectivity
  • 11. Present material to support a reasoned and sophisticated argument
  • 12. Develop independent, self-directed study/learning skills, including time management

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

This is an indicative syllabus, as the precise structure will change year on year.

Series one: progress modernity

  • Progress and evolutionism; growth and capital
  • Problems of progress: postcolonial/indigenous, feminist, posthumanist and queer critiques

Series two: dreams of progress and contemporary pathologies

Example topics to include:

  • Fin-de-siècle modernity, the technological sublime, deindustrialisation and abandonment
  • Keynesian economics, austerity and debt
  • Biopolitics, exhaustion and endurance
  • Nuclear modernity, environmental justice and toxicity
  • The American dream, cruel optimism and slow death

Series three: making futures

  • Afrofuturism; queer futures; technofuturism, postindustrial futurenatures; commons and degrowth; anti-development

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching28Lectures and seminars (14 x 2 hour, spread over 10 weeks to include a reading week and exam preparation time)
Guided independent study80Lecture and seminar preparation
Guided independent study42Assessment preparation


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Collaborative group workequivalent of 2 sides A41-2, 4, 6-8, 10-12Written and oral feedback
Group discussion in videoconference breakout rooms12 hours of interactive seminars online1-3, 5-12Group oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written examination 1502000 words1-12Written
Written examination 2502000 words1-12Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written examination 1Written examination1-12August ref/def
Written examination 2Written examination1-12August ref/def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to complete a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Berman, M. (1983). All that is solid melts into air: The experience of modernity, Verso.

Brigstocke, J., et al. (2016). Space, power and the commons: the struggle for alternative futures. London, Routledge.

Cornell, D. and S. D. Seely (2016). The spirit of revolution: Beyond the dead ends of man, John Wiley & Sons.

Dawney, L., et al. (2017). Problems of Hope. ARN Press.

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press.

Latour, B. (2012). We have never been modern, Harvard University Press.

Edelman, L. (2004). No future: Queer theory and the death drive, Duke University Press.

Said, E. W. (2012). Culture and imperialism, Vintage.

Sharpe, C. (2016). In the wake: On blackness and being, Duke University Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE –

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Geographical thought, modernity, futures, postcolonialism, social theory

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date