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Semester 1

Problematising Environment and Society (GEGR10142)







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Course Summary

Environmental studies is often framed as a practical field in which we know the problem and seek the solution. In this course, we will step back from these assumptions to critically examine different explanations for the fundamental, underlying social cause(s) of environmental problems. We focus on problem definitions and their relationship with different proposals for solutions. This problem-solution coupling will help students to more deeply understand and evaluate competing approaches to solving environmental problems.

Course Description

This course will help students to understand different and often competing explanations for the fundamental, underlying social cause(s) of environmental problems. We will focus on problem framings, including consideration of how environmental problems are defined, who is deemed responsible, and who should do what to solve the problem. This problem-solution coupling will help students to evaluate, adapt and justify different approaches to solving environmental problems. For example, some have argued for market-based solutions while others see capitalism as the root of environmental problems. Some believe private property is the problem, while others see it as the solution. Some advocate for individual consumption choices while others encourage developing environmental ethics. While some of these frames complement each other, others are contradictory: not all problem frames can be correct. Each week students will read an overarching summary and examples of texts providing a different problem frame. These texts will include both environmental classics and contemporary news or policy documents that exemplify the frame. Students will work to understand the logic of the problem frame each week, as well as its assumptions, strengths and weaknesses. Course structure: 1. Social Explanations for Environmental Problems 2. The Sky is Falling! Technology is Causing the End of Humanity! 3. In Defense of Modernity: Science, Technology and Innovation will Save Us! 4. The Tragedy of the Commons: Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all! 5. The (Regulated) Commons is the Solution! 6. Bring on the Leviathan! (Big) Government as the Solution 7. The Market is the Solution! 8. We Must Love the Earth! (Or: Individual Actions Will Save Us!) 9. Capitalism is the Cause of Environmental Problems! 10. Inequality is the Cause of the Crisis!

Assessment Information

Written Exam 0%, Coursework 100%, Practical Exam 0%

Additional Assessment Information

This course will be assessed through TWO coursework assignments: assignment 1, 'Contemporary Problem Frames' (30%) and assignment 2, 'Solving an Environmental Problem' (70%). For assignment 1, students will find an example of a text that exemplifies one of the problem frames from the course and analyse the argument found in the text, as well as assumptions absent from the text (length: 1000 words). The final essay asks students to use an example of a real world environment problem, and construct an argument for how it can be solved. This analysis can draw across multiple frames, with particular attention to the complementarity (or not) of different frames (length: 3000 words)Assessment deadlines:Assignment 1, 'Contemporary Problem Frames' - Week 6Assignment 2, 'Solving an Environmental Problem' - Week 11

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