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Political Ecology: Beyond Nature & Society


Admission requirements



Are you interested in how sustainability is defined and experienced across the world, and especially within non-institutionalised contexts? Are you curious about the ecological basis of revolts and crises? Have you always wanted to study the environment from a humanities and social sciences perspective? Political Ecology is a thriving field of studies and research, with presence in most universities across the globe. This highly interdisciplinary course offers an introduction to the field: its theory, practice, ethics and positionality. At the same time, it does not seek to be contextualised within rigid categorisations of (inter) disciplinary identity, knowledge and/or analysis. Instead, it opens up to a variety of, both academic and non-academic, perspectives and approaches to the study and analysis of contemporary socioenvironmental issues, in conversation with a variety of regions. This course goes beyond nature and society as variables of analysis, disparate and opposed, to suggest that nature and society can no longer be instituionalised, conceptualised and communicated as disparate and clearly delineated realms but rather as mutually constitutive notions. In this course, lecturer and students will discuss a variety of topics such as pandemics, migration, crises, revolution, conflict, waste, racism and sustainability by critically approaching their ecological basis and impact. A strong component of this course is the relevance of native theory across the world, but the diversity of indigenous environmental theory will not be presented in opposition and/ or in contrast to so-called ‘Western environmental knowledge’. As mentioned earlier, this course challenges conceptual, theoretical and practical binaries that situate environmental epistemic diversity in decontextualised analyses. No prior knowledge is required for this course. However, openness to new angles and perspectives which can help us confront our own biases is required.

Course Objectives

After successful completion of this course, students are able to:


  • Depart from existing knowledges and allow new perspectives and approaches to critically inform opinions.

  • Describe, discuss and think critically about key debates and perspectives concerning the political ecology of variety of topics: crisis, migration, activism, environmental theory, etc.

  • Assess the interrelatedness and mutually constitutive nature of politics and ecology in a variety of contexts across the world.

  • Construct and develop their own arguments as a response to urgent socioenvironmental matters in the world.

  • Critically situate scholarship and deconstruct biases (both personal and professional) and power relations that have also played an important role in defining and developing fields like environmental studies, ecology, geography and anthropology.

  • Broaden knowledge of ‘the environment’ by bringing perspectives and paradigms from the social sciences and humanities into existing knowledge stemming from the natural sciences.

  • Academically engage with the environmental theory of non-academic contexts and contribute to the advancement of epistemic diversity.


  • Analise academic literature pertaining to the themes discussed in the weekly seminars.

  • Formulate original arguments, in discussion and in writing, question and write an academic essay on a subject of choosing related to the course content.

  • Communicating opinions in an academic manner and with the assistance of existing relevant literature.

  • Assess the validity and reliability of research and literary sources beyond the politics of institutionalising knowledge.

  • Critically approach contemporary issues and the constitutive biases of primary and secondary sources, as well as media sources.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course is conducted in seminar-style meetings, which will take place twice a week. This requires thorough preparation through the study of the compulsory readings and active engagement on the part of the students. Every week, students will need to complete compulsory readings and complete these with suggested further readings. In addition, they will have to show critical engagement with readings by submitting a short summary of the readings before the session. Class meetings will include short lectures, moderated plenary, and group discussions led and moderated by students. The attendance of classes is compulsory.

Assessment Method

Student performance will be assessed in three ways:

  • First, each student will introduce and moderate a debate that relates to the week’s topics. Each debate will start with a brief introduction of no more than 10 minutes (the use of supporting visual material is also allowed) to then open the floor to the class. Each week, two students will run and moderate a debate or two- depending on whether or not they work together. This will be organised with the course convener during the first week of the course (25%).

  • Second, in groups of 4 or 5, students will plan, design and record a podcast focusing on a socioenvironmental topic of interest, as approached from the perspectives of Political Ecology (35%).

  • Third, students are required to write a final reflective essay of 3000 words (excluding references/bibliography) further developing any of the topics and/or queries from the debate they had moderated in class (or, after consultation, a different topic) (40%).

Reading list

There is no coursebook for this course. The syllabus will include a variety of critical interdisciplinary articles and book chapters from reputed authors in geography, politics, ecology, area studies, and anthropology. Each themed week will include both required and further readings that deal with relevant topics. Authors come from all corners of the world and include those working with decoloniality in environmental studies.


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,


Dr Elena Burgos Martinez,