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Unit information: Political Ecology in 2014/15

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Unit name Political Ecology
Unit code GEOG30005
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Laudati
Open unit status Not open

Year 2 pathways


Cross-cutting unit

School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

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.


The 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

Bi-Weekly Blogs (including a formative peer response) – (60%) During the first week of the term, students will be placed into reading groups. Each student is responsible, apart from the first day of class, for posting a blog on the Blackboard site based on the readings for the class and in one instance, an outside activity in lieu of readings. Students in each of the blogging groups are tasked with choosing a different article from the reading list to focus on and will be responsible for posting an individual 500-600 word blog for their particular reading. Students will submit 8 blogs in total throughout the term. In addition, students are also responsible for responding to a different student’s post, either by building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it. Responses are limited to 200 words. While the blogs and responses must be submitted on a bi-weekly basis to blackboard prior to the beginning of the relevant class, students will submit the cumulative collection of their blogs (like a portfolio) to the office during the final lecture week.

Group Reading Presentation – (15%) – Throughout the term each reading group will serve as experts of the full set of readings/blogs for the day and be required to lead a larger class discussion during the second hour of the class. Each group is required to complete this summative activity once throughout the term.

Final Group Product – (25%) - Students in self-determined groups are required to produce a media/creative product 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 turn in an accompanying bibliography of no less than eight sources as well as a 1000 word (excluding the bibliography) written fact sheet. These products will be showcased to the wider class during the 6th week of the term by way of a formative group presentation.

Further details of and guidelines for these assessments will be posted on blackboard and discussed during the first week of the unit. Note that all presentations will be recorded or viewed by additional staff for moderating purposes.

Reading and References

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