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Economy and Ecology: Dichotomy and Practice


Admission requirements

This course is open to the following categories of students:

  • Bachelor’s CA-DS,

  • Pre-Master’s CA-DS admitted for this specific course during their application procedure,

  • Exchange students admitted for this specific course during their application procedure.

  • (Bachelor students of Heritage and Society (Archeology) follow a different version of this course)

Please also see the "Registration" instruction below.

Language of Instruction

Lectures are taught in English.
Examination (assignments and written exam) will be held in English.


The first part of this course introduces students to anthropological perspectives on the relationship between political economy and the environment. Ethnographers have long argued that “nature” and “culture”—including the cultural products and systems we label economic—are not discrete spheres but tightly interwoven; many peoples do not, in fact, distinguish the two at all. The course is structured, accordingly, around exploring dynamic interactions between political-economic systems, environments, and human bodies that lead us to question dualistic thinking about nature and culture. Topics include critiques of “natural” disasters; the uneven distribution of environmental benefits and burdens along lines of gender, class, race and other categories; the commoditization of non-human life; and ethnographies of climate change. In thinking with these cases, we will explore how efforts to distinguish the natural and the cultural often work, particularly in advanced industrial economies, to legitimate social and environmental inequalities.
In the second half of the course, we will focus our attention on water. Evolving systems of water management have played key roles in the development of contemporary societies. In our current era, growing water scarcity and the threat of water-related disasters makes how to channel and, at times, prevent water flows a source of considerable social and political debate. The second in a two-part series on Economy and Ecology, this course examines the complex relationships between efforts to manage water and govern society. Topics we will cover include the relationships between water, culture, and livelihoods; water infrastructures, identity formation, and class struggle; and water and security, including disaster and climate change mitigation. By putting these issues into dialogue with the critiques of nature-culture dualism explored in the first half of the course, we will consider how to recognize, understand, and improve the social, economic and political channels water both flows through and shapes.

Learning goals

  • Acquire knowledge about historical and contemporary approaches in environmental anthropology and their relationship to political economy and ecology

  • Gain insight into how these ideas can illuminate current social and environmental problems through topical lectures bringing them into dialogue with ethnographic case studies

  • Apply anthropological perspectives on nature-culture, infrastructure, and economies to tackling contemporary water problems

  • Exercise in basic academic skills


Dates and room numbers can be found on the website

Mode of instruction

Total 10 ECTS = 280 study hours (sbu)

  • Lectures (12 x 2 hours = 24h / 36 sbu)

  • Written assignments (total of 3600 words = 48 sbu )

  • Literature approx. 1170 pages (196 sbu)

Assessment method

Mid-term (take-home) examination (50% of final mark)
Final (classical) examination (50% of final mark).
Written assignments: marked as "pass" or "not pass"; passing gives access to exams.

Both exams must be graded minimum 6 to complete the course; if unsatisfactory each can be re-taken a maximum of one time.


Blackboard will be used to announce the detailed course program including the reading list. Students can register from 2 weeks before the start of the course on Blackboard.


A selection of articles and chapters (to be accessed via the digital library): see the list on Blackboard.


Registration for all participants takes place via Usis for the lectures and the final exam. NO registration is required for the mid-term exam.
On the website on course registration you will find the registration periods and further information about the procedure.


Dr. Andrew Littlejohn