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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Benjamin Richard Gardner
HUM 596
Seattle Campus

Humanities Research Seminar

Explorations of current research in the humanities, most frequently with interdisciplinary emphasis. Offered by selected UW faculty and scholars-in-residence.

Class description

Why do struggles over the environment incite such passion? What does it mean to defend nature? How do our understandings of the environment influence our beliefs, values and interests? In what ways are struggles over American Lawns, Nigerian Oil, New Mexico Forests, Industrial Farms, Global Climate Models, and African Parks simultaneously material and symbolic? And what do such struggles tell us about contemporary environmental, economic and cultural politics?

This course looks at environmental politics as a theoretical and methodological way to understand the relationship between environmental issues and contemporary debates over culture, economy and society. Readings emphasize the relational histories of nature, power and politics. Students are asked to critically engage with course readings and diverse methods in search of their own critical practice (praxis) of environmental politics.

Student learning goals

The course will prepare students to ask how and why political, economic, and social dynamics are often left out of common understandings of environmental use and management, and creatively engage environmental politics.

This course brings together graduate students from a number of disciplines including cultural studies, policy studies, geography, anthropology, communications, women’s studies, and forestry. We will work collaboratively connecting disciplinary questions, theories and methods to explore the emerging field of environmental politics.

Above all, students are asked to apply ideas from the course to contemporary environmental and social problems. By the end of the course students should be able to understand and communicate how environmental change is influenced by a) social relations within and across regions; b) various forms of economic production; and c) ideas about nature.

General method of instruction

The format of this course emphasizes collaboration. As a result, a significant portion of your final grade depends on your overall contributions to the course and your ability to facilitate the learning of others. This capacity to create generative learning environments is one of the core learning outcomes for all Master of Arts in Cultural Studies (MACS) courses.

Students will be responsible at least once to collaboratively organize and facilitate online discussions of each week’s readings.

Recommended preparation

Key texts include: Mike Davis, 2002. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World; Deborah Fitzgerald, 2003. Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture; Ed Kashi and Michael Watts, 2008. Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta. Jake Kosek, 2006. Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico. Paul Robbins, 2007. Lawn People: How Grasses, Weeds, and Chemicals Make us Who We Are.

Class assignments and grading

The course portfolio will consist of several assignments from the quarter, including a selection among the following

1) A critical “field guide” that takes off from Paul Robbins’ “Lawn People” and Jennifer Price’s “Field Guide to the Nature Company” and engages the cultural and political aspects of nature; 2) Identifying and representing the origin stories that inform the key questions of your research; 3) Documenting a cultural landscape by highlighting the relational histories of places as points of linkages and articulations of material and symbolic practices; 4) Analyze a media representation of an environmental problem or issue; 5) Conduct a commodity chain/food web analysis of organic, local, or fair trade food; 6) The portfolio will also include ongoing on- and off-line work, and a final reflexive essay, along with other work that you have generated throughout the course.

Depending on student interests and trajectories, students may choose to write a final research paper, collaborate on a final project, or write a research proposal.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Benjamin Richard Gardner
Date: 11/03/2008