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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Global Environment and Society (PGSP11359)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryIn this course, we examine relations between humans, non-humans and the planet through the prism of contemporary dynamics of capitalism, the subjective logics that underwrite them and resistances and struggles against these. Why capitalism? Because it is through capitalist relations (of appropriation, extraction, commodification, exploitation, etc.) that many other forms of domination are reproduced; for example, colonial, gender, racial, and of course class domination, as well as forms of extraction and exploitation of non-humans. The course unpacks various forms of privatisation and dispossession (i.e. not only material but also subjective) at play in contemporary capitalism, and how, in spite of these, capitalism mobilises us subjectively. Conversely we also identify what comes up against such dynamics - how can collectives uphold a non-exploitative relationship with the non-human world: we examine theories of the commons, of social reproduction and a new take on social sustainability to help us do this.
Course description The ecological and climate troubles of our times have spurred very widespread and profound critical and creative mobilisation of the progressive scholarly community as well as activist movements. Large sectors of these communities and movements now denounce the inadequacy of sustainable development and green capitalist initiatives for tackling these challenges, viewing them rather as part of the problem, and advocate systemic transformations, putting forward principles such as degrowth, regeneration, and care. However, even though these approaches are underpinned by analyses of capitalist accumulation, they usually fail to grapple with the structural and dynamic character of capitalist domination.

In this course, we explore these dynamics of capitalism - dispossession and exploitation but also subjectivation - with a view to theorise the production and reproduction of unsustainability and inequality. Theory is not for the sake or beauty of it, but to get a better, more helpful grip on things and thus to be able to devise political stances and strategies on that basis. The course is meant to allow us to do this together, by approaching theory through concrete case studies of specific sectors (especially mining, deforestation and conservation, but also renewable energies, and disaster 'management') and their greening/sustainability initiatives. Theories of social reproduction, social sustainability and new reflections on red-green alliances wiIl be key to help us think through more truthful and serious paths for equality and the habitability of the planet.

I am a sociologist, but do not take an exclusively sociological approach and mobilise much geographical, anthropological scholarship as well as, crucially, critical theorists, materialist feminists, Indigenous and other militant authors. Two of my colleagues, Dr Theo Bourgeron and Dr Sophia Woodman are also teaching on the course, offering their stimulating take on, respectively, environment and health, and on the commons.

Course structure:

Introduction: Unsustainability, inequality, capitalism - an overview (week 1)

Part 1: Dynamics of capitalist accumulation 1 - Dispossessions (weeks 2-5)

Part 2: Dynamics of capitalist accumulation 2 - Subjectivities and subjectivation (weeks 6-8)

Part 3: Social sustainability (weeks 9-10)

Essay surgery (week 11)

The course takes the form of weekly two-hour seminars, for which students are required to read at least the core readings and the readings required for group work. The format of classes varies but generally will involve an introductory lecture, introducing the main authors and concepts and discussing them with students; seminar work facilitated by students, involving class discussion; and a final discussion/recap.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed:
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Social Science Undergraduate Degree
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  25
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Group work (25%): students will be divided into working groups of 4 to 5 students, each of which will be in charge of a presentation of a specific case study using the theoretical and analytical frameworks of respectively part 1 or 2 of the course. This will require some collective documentary work, preparation of the session, and exposition in the session and facilitation of class debate. I will support you in the preparation for this.

Final Essay (75%) 3500 words social science essay using the frameworks of the course - essay questions will be posted in the second half of the course.
Feedback Feedback takes place through the assessment of groupwork. The criteria for assessment are discussed with students in the first class, but typically do not only involve criteria regarding an adequate presentation of the content but also the extent to which the group in charge of the session has facilitated learning by the rest of the group. The convener provides feed-back on both dimensions in the feed-back sheet.
This is formative feed-back in view of the long essay as the convener can pick up on the group's understanding of concepts and make suggestions for further understanding.
As for the long essay, the aim of the assessment is to allow you to develop your own ideas and topics, demonstrate your ability to analyse relevant issues and draw on and synthesise relevant evidence. Feed-back is provided on the structure and organisation of the essay, the extent of critical/conceptual analysis, the cohesion of the overall argument, how sources/evidence are used, the relevance of reading, and presentation.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate extensive, critical and detailed knowledge of fundamental concepts in social science, as they apply to current environmental debates
  2. Engage critically with key social theorists through the lens of environmental issues
  3. Define, argue and review their own stance with regard to environment/society relations
  4. Demonstrate an ability to present - in written and verbal form - coherent, well argued and theoretically informed analyses of contemporary global environmental issues
  5. Demonstrate substantial autonomy and initiative in the preparation and organisation of research and coursework
Reading List
Barca, S. (2020). Forces of reproduction: Notes for a counter-hegemonic Anthropocene. Cambridge University Press.

Brand, U., & Wissen, M. (2021). The imperial mode of living: Everyday life and the ecological crisis of capitalism. Verso Books.

Dunlap, A. (2020). Wind, coal, and copper: the politics of land grabbing, counterinsurgency, and the social engineering of extraction. Globalizations, 17(4), 661-682.

Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the witch. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia.

Foster, J. B., Clark, B., and York, R. (2011). The ecological rift: Capitalism`s war on the earth. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Fraser, N., & Jaeggi, R. (2018). Capitalism: A conversation in critical theory. John Wiley & Sons.

Huber, M. (2022) Climate Change as Class War. Verso.

Illner, P (2020). Disasters and Social Reproduction: Crisis Response Between the State and Community. London: Pluto Press.

Malm, A. (2016). Fossil capital: The rise of steam power and the roots of global warming. Verso Books.

Saito, K. (2023). Marx in the Anthropocene: Towards the Idea of Degrowth Communism. Cambridge University Press.

Salleh, A. (2010). From metabolic rift to "metabolic value": Reflections on environmental sociology and the alternative globalization movement. Organization & environment, 23(2), 205-219.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Isabelle Darmon
Tel: (0131 6)51 1574
Course secretaryMr Adam Petras
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