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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Stevan Harrell
SEFS 550
Seattle Campus

Graduate Seminar

Graduate seminar to evaluate and discuss current research topics. Topics and requirements vary. Offered: AWSp.

Class description

In recent years, ecological scientists and social scientists have begun to examine several ways in which their theoretical models are similar at a meta-level, and also to look at ways in which new theoretical concepts and models can apply to both fields. In particular, the concept of resilience, and the associated model of the adaptive cycle, originally developed by C.S. (Buzz) Holling, have promised both theoretical and substantive integration of social and ecological systems. This is thus an exciting time for scientists interested in cross-disciplinary interaction and in cross-fertilization between disciplines. It is also a time when it is becoming clearer and clearer that the [ecological] earth system and the [socio-political] world system (to borrow the title of one of our textbooks) are in danger of crossing a threshold of irreparable damage, and that the health and survival of one depends on the health and survival of the other. New concepts such as resilience theory are thus timely as well as intellectually exciting. At the same time, we must be careful and critical. Is resilience theory a real contribution toward saving the world, or is just old wine in new bottles, new words for the same old things? Is it a valuable tool for action, or just a fuzzy-headed, ivory-tower set of slogans that we can't apply to real-world situations? The proof is in the application. This course is an opportunity for curious and open-minded ecologists, anthropologists, planners, and others to join me in a rigorous but free-wheeling exploration of these concepts and their application. We will spend approximately the first five or six weeks of the quarter reading the classic and not-so-classic texts from the resilience tradition, and then take the last half of the quarter for each of us to try to apply these concepts to a particular case-study that involves the interaction of the ecosystem and the socio-political system. Students should emerge from the quarter with a better sense of whether and how resilience theory is a useful tool for them.

Student learning goals

Become fluent in systems-thinking in general.

Become comfortable with the concepts of resilience ecology

Develop critical thinking skills with which to evaluate theoretical concepts

Write case-study papers that use systems concepts to integrate biophysical and social aspects of pieces of the earth.

General method of instruction

Seminar: read, report, and discuss. Student presentations the last few sessions of the quarter.

Recommended preparation

General familiarity with either social science or ecological science, and a willingness to learn from and about the other one.

Class assignments and grading

Readings every week; students will be assigned to report on questions for each set of readings, and there will be general discussion. A major project, to be presented in a class presentation at the end of the quarter and in a 15-20 page research paper. This project can be directly related to a student's own master's or doctoral research if appropriate.

Grades depend entirely on the term project.


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.
Syllabus from last time; to be updated
Last Update by Stevan Harrell
Date: 03/09/2013