Graduate Courses 2010-2011
ENVS 410/510. Soils (4 credits)
(Pending course description) (Fall)
ENVS 455/555. Sustainability What is it? (4 credits)
After 20 years in the public spotlight, the concept of «sustainability» has arguably become the dominant framework for understanding environmental challenges today. Yet, this term is so widely used to describe such greatly differing ideas and practices (with only loose — or even contradictory — definitions) that some have questioned whether this term means anything at all. Is sustainability just a fuzzy (if appealing) buzzword? Those who have attempted to define sustainability have in some cases come to wholly incompatible conclusions about its meaning— such as vigorous and ongoing debates between certain economists and ecologists over whether economic growth is compatible with sustaining ecological systems.
A careful examination of the competing definitions of sustainability reveals disagreements about core social, cultural, and ecological assumptions, such as: what is to be sustained (economic growth? ecosystems ’services’? ecosystems and species independent of their economic value?); who is to benefit (humans alive today? which humans? future generations? what about other species?); whose values (or ’needs’) are to be sustained? (is American consumer culture a ’need’? can materially wealthy societies deny similar aspirations to others in a rapidly globalizing culture and economy?); and what time frame is appropriate? (a short time frame may make ’sustainability’ too easy, whereas in the face of today’s rapid ecological and technological change a long time frame may make sustaining current conditions impossible, or even undesirable). In short, an examination of ’sustainability’ is nothing less than of an examination of what we desire to be as a society, what values and cultures we prioritize, how we understand our biophysical interactions with the planet, and what ethical obligations we have.
This course is about the evolution of the concept of sustainability and its complex and sometimes problematic uses among scholars, policy makers, environmentalist and businesses. The course then ’unpacks’ the competing social, cultural, economic, and ecological assumptions and priorities that are often quietly but powerfully promoted in the push for ’sustainability’. A concept that means all things to all people can too easily come to mean little or nothing. The purpose of this course is to enable students to move beyond fuzzy buzzwords by critically examining these multiple meanings and encouraging more explicit definitions and efforts to understand and reconcile the ambiguities, tensions, and contradictions in the concept of sustainability. This is a ’tough love’ course for sustainability: by examining this important concept with a highly critical eye, students will be better positioned to move sustainability forward with more rigorous definitions and goals that are ecologically sound, socially effective, ethically and culturally defensible, and technologically achievable.
Prereq: ENVS 201 and junior of senior standing. (Fall)
ENVS 631. Environmental Studies Theory and Practice [1-4]
Introduction to various disciplinary perspectives that contribute to environmental studies, including their research methods, vocabularies, and core concepts. (Fall)
ENVS 450/550. Political Ecology (4 credits)
Political ecology examines the politics (in the broadest sense of the word) of the environment. Whereas environmental politics courses often focus on the role of government and interest groups in shaping specific environmental policies, political ecology expands our understanding of ‘politics’ to examine the roles of:
- environmental rhetoric (‘discourse’), ideology, and knowledge;
- politics and environmental change;
- economic systems (including ‘globalization’);
- gender-based dimensions of resource ownership and use;
- and everyday struggles within communities and households (including ‘community’-based resource management) as they shape human relationships with nature. Although much of the political ecology literature comes from studies of the less-developed ‘third world,’ this course also examines the political ecology of the ‘first world.’
ENVS 632. Environmental Studies Research Methodology [1-4]
Identifying a clear and concise research problem, developing methodology to address that problem, and the process of developing a thorough knowledge of relevant literature. (Winter)
ENVS 633. Thesis Development [1-4]
Interdisciplinary readings in environmental studies focused on student thesis topics. Preparation for presentations at the Joint Campus Conference and the MA thesis prospectus. (Spring)