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Oil, Waste and Water: the Political Ecology of the Middle East and North Africa


Admission requirements

Admission to (one of) the programme(s) listed under Part of in the right information bar.
If you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of (one of) the listed programme(s), please contact the Coordinator of Studies.


This seminar course examines the political, economic and cultural determinants of the environment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Using a framework that draws on theories of political ecology it looks at the historical construction of the MENA’s environment and expressions of society-environment relations. The introductory sessions will look at the manner in which phases of imperialism and colonialism shaped the environment of the region, both in terms of its governance of resources and in terms of how its ecology is perceived. It will also explore indigenous forms of knowledge and cultural production on the environment.
The following weeks will then look at specific cases and themes. These include sessions on hydrocarbons, water, waste, and the agrarian environment. Other weeks will look at the relationship between the environment and conflict and its position in social movements and politics. These classes provide a compelling insight into the politics, economics and culture of the MENA region. It also offers the opportunity to be introduced to political ecology, an exciting and interdisciplinary field that offers a novel and dynamic way of understanding the environment.

Tentative weeks include:
2. Environmental Orientalism
3. Historical roots I: Colonial era
4. Historical roots II: Postcolonial era
5. Indigenous knowledge and culture
6. Desert dreams
7. Carbons
8. Water
9. Waste
10. Agrarian ecologies
11. Conflict and the environment
12. Social and political movements

Course objectives

Develop a theoretical lense of political ecology that allows us to conceptualise society-nature relations in the MENA.

  • Learn the significance of the region’s environmental resources in phases of colonialism and Imperialism.

  • Analyse the relationship between the status of the environment and international and regional economic flows of capital and commodities.

  • Understand the role of environmental degradation in developmental outcomes in the region.

  • Understand the signifiance of indigenous knowledge and culture.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Attendance and participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity.
Plagiarism will not be tolerated. It is assumed that students' work is their own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). Students may not substantially reuse any work they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.
Assignment(s) must be submitted to Brightspace through Turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Engagement (informed participation; presentation; discussant duties) 30%
Proposal 20%
Final paper 50%

In order to pass the course, students need a pass mark (“voldoende”, i.e. “5.50” or higher) for the research paper and for the course as a whole.
All categories of assessment must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is 5.49 or lower and this is the result of a paper graded 5.49 or lower, a re-sit of the paper is possible (50%). In that case the convener of the course may decide to assign a (new) topic. The deadline for this version will be determined by the course convener, after consultation with the student.
A re-sit for other course components is not possible.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized. To request a review the student should send an email to the instructor of the course.

Reading list



Students from MA programmes listed under Part of in the right information bar, will be informed by their Coordinator of Studies on the enrolment procedure. After admission they will be registered by the Education Administration Office Vrieshof, one week prior to the start of the first semester.