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

Postgraduate Course: Environmental Risk: Politics, Ethics, and Communication (PGSP11552)

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
SummaryAccording to some political scientists and sociologists, 'risk' is the core concept that defines our modern world. We are living in a time when both natural and human-induced threats to things that humans value are pervasive and increasingly complex. The positivist faith in science that led us to see risks as manageable is waning and concern about the by-products of that same science is growing. We will explore how current environmental risks (global and local) are politicised and depoliticised, focusing in turns on perception of, communication about, and ethical evaluation of such risks. Students will select an environmental risk that they explore throughout the semester; they will analyse and creatively communicate about it for their final project.
Course description Environmental risks affect us all, whether the risk comes from a coal-fired power plant or heavy industry in your community that threatens local health via air pollution, or its the effects of global climate change on food you consume from halfway around the world. Environmental hazards pose personal, humanitarian, and ecological concerns that are difficult to prepare for and/or avoid. Environmental 'risks' (the potential to experience a 'hazard') are not only pervasive; they can be endlessly frustrating as well. Why can't others just see this risk the way I do and come to my logical conclusion for how to deal with it? Why is more action not taken by government on this issue? We, and our elected leaders and their bureaucracies, often fail to agree on the types of hazards we focus on as environmental risks, or the degree of concern we attribute to the risks.

Some people would argue that there is an objectively quantifiable threat associated with each environmental hazard. Technical risk assessments, however, cannot account for a range of cultural, social, and ethical factors that characterise how environmental hazards affect us. Therefore, this course will be situated more closely in the fields of politics, sociology, communication, and philosophy than in natural scientific fields that emphasise technical risk assessment.

Major topics covered:

Unit 1: Understanding and perceiving environmental risk
Unit 2: Communicating environmental risk
Unit 3: Evaluating ethicality of environmental risks
Unit 4: In-depth case study: Applying our knowledge of environmental risk

There are opportunities for you to determine much of the course's content and format, particularly in relation to your assignments. A few aspects of how we shall interact in this course are, however, not up for negotiation. We shall endeavour to create a democratic and inclusive learning climate and community that allows for freedom of expression, critical reflection, active listening, constructive dialogue, meaningful participation, and enhanced understanding. We shall learn about and apply our knowledge of environmental risks in several different manners to accommodate different learning styles, but we shall also push each other slightly beyond our academic comfort zones.

Expectations for how you will engage in the course:

- Come to class prepared
- Attend class regularly
- Meaningfully engage in all group work
- Express your ideas, regardless of the stage of your ideas in the formative process.
- A time commitment that is substantial, but not oppressive
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  30
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 1. Risk journal - 20%
2. Responding to the policy process - 25%
3. Class participation - 10%
4. Final project (Critical engagement with an environmental risk) - 45%
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand a range of environmental risks that have garnered political attention in recent years and differentiate between them
  2. Critically reflect on and internalise your own perceptions of environmental risks, their causes, and their solutions
  3. Synthesise and apply knowledge of environmental risk perception, communication, and ethics to an in-depth examination of a key historical environmental controversy
  4. Interact with and evaluate environmental risks through a range of media: academic and non-academic texts, journalism, video, music, poetry, etc.
  5. Demonstrate your understanding of environmental risks through a semester-long project in which you communicate effectively about a specific environmental risk of your choosing
Reading List
Beck, U. (1995). Ecological enlightenment: essays on the politics of the risk society. Humanities Press: New Jersey, USA.
Lupton, D. (1999). Risk: key ideas. Abingdon: Routledge.
Covello, V. T., McCallum, D. B., & Pavlova, M. T. (Eds.). (2012). Effective risk communication: the role and responsibility of government and nongovernment organizations (Vol. 4). Springer Science & Business Media.
Whitmarsh, L., Lorenzoni, I., & O'Neill, S. (2012). Engaging the public with climate change: Behaviour change and communication. Routledge.
Asveld, L., & Roeser, S. (Eds.). (2012). The ethics of technological risk. Routledge
Lewens, T. (Ed.). (2007). Risk: philosophical perspectives. Routledge.
Briggle, A. (2015). A Field Philosopher's Guide to Fracking: How One Texas Town Stood Up to Big Oil and Gas. WW Norton & Company.
Carson, R. (1962/2000). Silent Spring. London: Penguin Books.
Freudenburg, W., and Gramling, R. (2010). Blowout in the Gulf. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
McIntosh, A. (2004). Soil and Soul: People versus corporate power. London: Aurum Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - Critical analysis and evaluation of major current political and ethical controversies
- Develop original and creative responses to a key environmental risk of the student's choosing (see final assignment for the course)
- Deal with complex issues and make informed judgements about environmental risks that are widely contested in terms of importance, causes, and solutions
- Communicate, using appropriate methods, to a range of audiences (see different foci for audiences for the written assignments)
- Exercise autonomy and take responsibility for own work (through a substantial semester-long project on an environmental risk of the student's choosing)
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Darrick Evensen
Tel: (0131 6)51 1624
Course secretaryMrs Casey Behringer
Tel: (0131 6)50 2456
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