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Political Ecology




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 200-level and 300-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


This course will use frameworks of political ecology to look at the forces and actors producing and produced by socio-ecological relationships between people and their environments. While historically informed, the course will primarily focus on the relationships between political economy, models of global and local environmental governance, paradigm of neoliberalism, and cultural and environmental rights in the age of globalization. We will critically engage with the ideologies and policies of sustainable development and green developmentalism in relation to the lived experience of the communities involved with and affected by the implementation of these agendas. We will also review a range of ethnographic case studies focused on understanding local and global environments as social fields of engagement between a variety of actors, including state institutions, NGOs, regional environmental coalitions, transnational indigenous activist organizations, “ethical” consumers, etcetera. By the end of the course the students will have a sophisticated understanding of the major debates, theories, and case studies in political ecology, sustainable development, and regimes of environmental ideologies and subjectivities.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to

  • Critically analyze the issues and dimensions involved in ideologies and practices of sustainable development, conservation, and resource extraction.

  • Recognize the role of historical constructions of “nature” in contemporary conservation and sustainable development initiatives.

  • Be able to critically reflect on the parameters and practices of global environmental governance and its effect on local actors.

  • Distinguish between ethnocentric and non-ethnocentric approaches to ecology.

  • Understand and articulate how the concept of “nature” is historically constructed and culturally contingent, and how it is politically mobilized in the service of particular forms of inclusion and exclusion.

Mode of Instruction

The course will be taught primarily in seminar format. In-class time will be divided between short lectures, student group presentations, student discussions of the assigned course material. Visual material will augment the readings when appropriate. Students will prepare for each week’s topic by posting “reader responses” to assigned readings on the course Blackboard site.


Each student will be assessed on the basis of in-class contribution (in-class participation), individual dynamic engagement with the assigned course materials (weekly “reader responses” posted on the web), collaborative work with their peers on presenting on an assigned topic in front of the class (group presentation), and the final essay.


Students should purchase the anthology Michael Watts and Richard Peet (eds). (2004). Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development, Social Movements (2nd Edition), London: Routledge; additional readings and visual materials assigned during some weeks.

Note: Students are not allowed to use laptops in the classroom, with the exception of in-class presentations. If you take this class, you will be required to print out or copy the assigned readings, and bring the hard copy with you to class.

Contact Information


Weekly Overview

Week 1: Political Ecology I (Foundations of Political Ecology)
Week 2: Political Ecology II (Critiques of Political Ecology)
Week 3: Ethnoecologies and Ethnocentric Environmentalism
Week 4: Global Environmental Governance
Week 5: Models and Lived Experiences of Sustainable Development
Week 6: Neoliberal Conservation and Resource Extraction
Week 7: New Forms and Technologies of Commodifying Nature
Week 8: Reading Week

Preparation for first session