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Social Analysis for Sustainability


Admission requirements

Required course(s):



Environmental challenges often exist on the intersection of social, economic, and environmental discourse. Global inequality, food insecurity, and predatory land lease structures are a few examples of topics that affect the progression of climate change mitigation strategies. Seemingly unrelated social issues, such as racism in the United States, can have an immense effect on a group’s perception of climate change issues. Throughout this course, students will develop a comprehensive view of the socio-ecological systems in which we maneuver. Additionally, students will develop social science research methods important to understanding current environmental research (e.g., the energy transition, biodiversity protection), in decision-making processes (e.g., taking the risk of adopting environmentally friendly technologies in agriculture), and in assessing the distribution of benefits and costs of social-ecological transformations, among others.

Through critical thinking, students should be able to distil how the state of social-ecological systems (coupled human-environment systems) are not only technical issues but are inherently political and socially constructed. This is a key learning outcome because it helps foreground the critical role of socially inclusive policies and processes in addressing the range of complex sustainability issues facing us.

Course Objectives

The key learning outcome that this 200-level course needs to deliver on is that students are able to critically assess the sustainability issues situated within socio-ecological systems, such as: (i) how sustainability problems are framed and how solutions are formulated; (ii) how various sustainability solutions generate differentiated gains and losses to different social groups; (iii) whether and how people get to participate in making decisions, formulating policies, and developing interventions for sustainability and the institutions that underpin this (iv) and how to account for the drivers of these differences and measure their impacts.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The lectures are meant for developing foundational knowledge amongst the students. Reading assignments (which will be provided) are useful for developing foundational knowledge. The lectures will complement reading assignments because they are venues for highlighting the most important points, drawing connections between concepts, and providing empirical examples. The lectures are designed to be interactive. This means that lectures will involve the use of diverse activities where students will actively participate. Student participation is highly valued. Apart from being involved in designed activities, students are also expected to raise questions for the instructor or for fellow students, share reflections, or challenge ideas, among others.

How social inequalities manifest differs across contexts. For instance, the most pressing forms of social inequalities in one country (e.g. Netherlands) may look very different from inequalities in another country such as Ethiopia. Videos can provide students with a ‘window’ into another part of the world.

This activity can be done to provide a break from the lectures. Questions will be posed for students to reflect on. They will then pair with another student to share their reflections. Pairs can be invited to share with the bigger class.

This will be an interactive and facilitated discussion amongst everyone in the class. In the early part of the block, the instructor will facilitate discussions. In the latter part, the instructor will invite students to volunteer to lead discussions to begin to develop facilitation skills.

The class will be divided into 5 groups of around 4 students in each group. In these workshops, students will intensively work on a task provided by the instructor. The tasks are designed for students to demonstrate that they have the ability to practically apply the knowledge they learned in class.

In this activity, the groups will present their outputs from the workshop. After one group presents, others will be invited to provide constructive feedback.

Note: These teaching methods are among the key activities that will be done in class. Do note that this table is not an exhaustive list. Other activities will also be designed for the different weeks.

Assessment Method

  • Individual in-class participation, 10%, Weeks 1-7

  • Individual assignments, 15%, Weeks 1-4

  • Group work on applying analytical frameworks, 17,5%, Week 5

  • Group work on integrating social analysis into projects, 17,5%, Week 5

  • Class presentations, 15%, Week 6-7

  • Final exam (individual), Week 8

Reading list

Week 1
Topic: Taking a socio-ecological systems perspective of sustainability


  • Folke, C., Biggs, R., Norström, A. V., Reyers, B., & Rockström, J. (2016). Social-ecological resilience and biosphere-based sustainability science. Ecology and Society, 21(3).

Additional reading (optional):

  • Coley, J. D., Betz, N., Helmuth, B., Ellenbogen, K., Scyphers, S. B., & Adams, D. (2021). Beliefs about Human-Nature Relationships and Implications for Investment and Stewardship Surrounding Land-Water System Conservation. Land, 10(12), 1293.


Week 2
Topic: Effect of inequality on the effects of climate change and societal resilience


  • Cappelli, F., Costantini, V., & Consoli, D. (2021). The trap of climate change-induced “natural” disasters and inequality. Global Environmental Change, 70, 102329.

Additional reading (optional)

Week 3
Topic: Environmental Justice


  • Banzhaf, S., Ma, L., & Timmins, C. (2019). Environmental justice: The economics of race, place, and pollution. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33(1), 185-208.

Additional reading (optional):

Week 4
Topic: Group identity and discrimination in sustainability discourse


  • Forsyth, D. R., van Vugt, M., Schlein, G., & Story, P. A. (2015). Identity and sustainability: Localized sense of community increases environmental engagement. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 15(1), 233-252.

Additional reading (optional):

Week 5
Topic: Social research methods in sustainability science


  • Lemos, M. C., Eakin, H., Dilling, L., & Worl, J. (2019). Social sciences, weather, and climate change. Meteorological Monographs, 59, 26-1.

Additional reading (optional):

Week 6
Topic: Multistakeholder participation in research: risk of manipulation or best practice?


  • Donders, K., Van den Bulck, H., & Raats, T. (2019). The politics of pleasing: a critical analysis of multistakeholderism in Public Service Media policies in Flanders. Media, Culture & Society, 41(3), 347-366.

Additional reading (optional):

Week 7
Topic: Equality of Opportunity?


Additional reading (optional):


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


J.M. Nooij MSc,


The course structure is not yet set in stone. The chronology of tiopics shown in the reading list could change dependent on global events or if large questions arise in the first or second week. Given the relevance of the topics addressed in the course, I will likely be using examples of events happening at the time, such as the Iranian protests or the effect of the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act on European green policy in the future. While not required, it’s therefore useful to be up to date on global news related to (social) sustainability.

If you have any questions regarding the course in the meantime, do not hesitate to contact me.