Skip to main content

Unit information: Political Ecology in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Political Ecology
Unit code GEOG30005
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Laudati
Open unit status Not open



Available to year-three Geography and year- four Geography with Study Aboard/Continental Europe students only.

School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

Unit Description:

A concern for the relationship between nature and society has been one of the pillars of geographic inquiry, and has also been an important bridge between other disciplines. This critical thinking unit explores the how and why of environmental problems. We begin from the proposition that human-environment relations are always social relations: how natural resources are produced, distributed, valued, consumed, conserved and degraded are historically- and geographically-specific questions whose answers cannot be reduced to “the earth’s carrying capacity.” The question is how to understand these relations as simultaneously social and ecological. Key themes include; the politics of access to and control over natural resources, attention to the poor and marginalized, an examination of the environment through attention to social relations and history, the implications of different ideas of nature, the consequences of colonialism, uneven development, and recent neoliberal policies, and how these contribute to current struggles over landscape and livelihoods.

Unit Aims:

To aim of the course is to help students develop a critical and historical analysis of human-environment interaction that integrates the study of ecological and social/cultural processes, and places environmental issues in the context of broader social and political dynamics.

Intended Learning Outcomes

After accomplishing the unit students will be able to:

• Articulate how people’s relationships to their environment are mediated by social and political contexts that exist at different scales;

• Apply the analytical and conceptual tools for understanding society-environment relations from a political ecology perspective;

• Identify and link the interactions of local, national and global processes through specific case-studies;

• Recognize and analyze environmentalist discourses and their practical consequences in relation to society and culture;

• Understand how institutional and social arrangements for environmental governance affect political economic, social/cultural, and ecological dynamics.

Teaching Information

Lectures, small group discussions, activity based learning, student-led discussions, e-learning including various forms of media and the use of student blogs

Assessment Information

Weekly Blogs – (70%) Students are responsible for posting seven 600 word blogs (weighted at 10% each) onto Blackboard on a weekly basis seven times throughout the term, except for weeks 1, 11 and the week when they are facilitating the wider class. Blogs will be based on the weekly readings for the class and, in a few instances, will link to an outside/classroom activity. In addition, students are also responsible for posting a formative 250 word response blog in response to a different student’s post, either by building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it. Students will receive general feedback for each of the blogs following the weekly submissions and the final mark and feedback is returned following the cumulative submission of all blogs, compiled as a Portfolio, at the end of the unit.

Formative Weekly Reading Group Facilitations (formative) – During the first week of term, students will be placed into Reading Groups. Each group will serve as experts for the full set of readings/blogs submitted each week and will lead the larger class discussion. Each group is required to complete this activity once throughout the term.

Final Project: A Political Ecology of Things – (30%) – Inspired by Dr. Ian Cook’s work on Follow the Things, students are required to produce a substantive blog/webpage that informs the class about the socio-economic and environmental history of a particular commodity from the point of production to its engagement in our day-to-day lives. Each student must include a bibliography of no less than eight academic sources.

In Class Oral Exam (formative) – This formative exam will be held over a three hour period during the final week of class in lieu of a traditional lecture or paper exam.

Reading and References

Robbins, P. 2012. Political Ecology: A critical introduction.