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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Douglas Mercer
GEOG 472
Seattle Campus

Ecoscapes: Nature, Culture, and Place

Relationship between nature, culture, and place as the heart of geographic inquiry. Examines how perceptions of nature are influenced by changing political-economic, cultural, and scientific practices. Uses cultural studies of ecological science as a primary method of analysis. Offered: Sp.

Class description

Course Overview The course is about geographical perception and risk. More colloquially, it is about what we fear and why. It is also about the formal institutions and informal social processes that have developed around our fears. Why do people choose unhealthy behaviors, or are mortified of commercial flight, even though they know better? Why does society knowingly produce environmental hazards like toxic waste and cause global warming? Why do people buy things they know are risky to themselves and the environment? Those interested in environment, health, and architecture, as well as economics and business (especially marketing) will find this course applicable. We will examine various disciplinary explanations for why individuals and societies perceive, value, and choose amongst various risks. Our readings begin with the neural basis of risk and judgment, then proceed through risk perception, and the institutionalization of risk management through cultural, social, political and economic instruments. We will attempt to integrate insight from these disciplines through the geographical concept of “landscape.”

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Overview of Course Structure and Responsibilities Your primary product in this class will be to analyze a familiar landscape in which you perceive risk. As a part of this exercise you will confront a risk in that landscape. For example, your landscape could be of a mountain that you wish to climb. It could be of a commercial area where you bought something against your better judgment (a risqué dress, that volcano triple chocolate cake, Mao’s “Red Book,” etc). Your landscape could be a nuclear power plant that you don’t like driving by, or the mundane risks of everyday travel. You may choose a social risk such as telling someone something that you are afraid to say, or singing Karaoke, or riding a bus through an area of town that makes you feel uncomfortable. The University campus, for example. You will use this risky landscape to reflect on our readings. We have a lot to read, and a lot of it is challenging. You will need each other to understand those readings and their implications to your risky landscape. Most of in-class time is devoted to discussion in various formats (large group, small group) and in addition you will contribute to on-line discussion. Your Seminar Participation grade, 30% of the course grade, is based on individual daily contributions to the in-class and on-line venues. Take note: your grade will reflect the seriousness of your engagement. Do not expect to get a good Seminar grade just because of “idiot wind” to quote Dylan’s famous phrase.

Recommended preparation

At least junior standing. Solid grounding in one, but preferably two from the following: geography environmental studies/health/sciences psychology environmental anthropology environmental economics statistics

Class assignments and grading

There will be weekly quizzes and a term paper. The quizzes are on key concepts from the readings. The term paper will be an analysis of your risky landscape.

Seminar 30% Quizzes 30% Term paper 25% Risk 10% Peer Review 5%


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.
Additional Information
Last Update by Douglas Mercer
Date: 01/02/2006