PIR-10047 - The politics of sustainability
Coordinator: Marit Hammond Room: CBB2.010 Tel: +44 1782 7 33214
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 4
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office:

Programme/Approved Electives for 2021/22


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2021/22

This module is designed to provide a clear and inspiring introduction to social scientific perspectives on environmental problems and the concept of sustainability. It is useful to students taking environment-related courses who require a solid grounding in environmental social sciences as well as to students with a general interest in this timely global issue.
The module looks at the emergence of the "environment" as an object of study, the historical processes leading to the contemporary discussion of "sustainability" (and "unsustainability") and the various ways in which political and social theorists, scientists, artists, fiction writers, and activists have interpreted a range of environmental problems and solutions in different contexts. Students will learn to recognise the political aspects of the environmental crisis and to understand how and why both "environment" and "sustainability" are essentially contested concepts.
The ten topic-based lectures (plus one revision lecture) are complemented by nine weekly meetings of small tutorial groups. The tutorial sessions enable students to discuss and debate the academic content, as well as to practise core skills that will be required for successful University-level study -- such as paraphrasing an author's argument, using the Harvard system of referencing, attributing a concept to a specific school of thought, and constructing an effective argument. Tutorial group sessions enable students to develop the important verbal communication skills of effective question-posing and active listening. In addition to taking an unseen exam on the module content, students are required to write an argumentative essay on the history of sustainability.

i) to provide a first year introduction to the social scientific perspectives on environmental problems and the concept of sustainability.
ii) to enable students to develop the core study and communication skills needed to be successful in the social science components of the degree programme (e.g., effective writing and reading, critical thinking, and accessing information).

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

explain the emergence of 'the environment' as an object of social scientific study and political debate: 2
explain the development of, and debates about, the concepts of 'sustainable development' and 'sustainability': 2
identify and critically discuss -- by applying relevant conceptual tools -- the social, political, economic, and cultural factors that have led to the problem of 'unsustainability': 2
develop an argument and assemble a coherent analysis that is communicated effectively, using an appropriate academic writing style and correctly apply the Harvard system of referencing: 2

Study hours

11 hours lectures
9 hours tutorials
40 hours tutorial preparation
90 hours research and writing of both written assignments

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Reflective Analysis weighted 25%
Annotated timeline
Students will annotate a timeline of historical turning points and events in light of their relevance to (un)sustainability, and reflect on key themes emerging from this. The total word count for this assignment will be between 500 and 750 words. Students are expected to show an understanding of the wider impact of these events as discussed in the module, and should reflect critically and imaginatively on the continuing evolution and "progress" of humanity on this planet.

2: Essay weighted 75%
1,500 word essay
Students will write a 1,500-word essay. This task involves applying key concepts and ideas from lectures and module readings to analyse the significance of human history for (un)sustainability today.