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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Benjamin Richard Gardner
BPOLST 583
Bothell Campus

Issues in Environmental Policy

Analyzes current policy issues in the complex and every changing arena of environmental policy.

Class description

Why do struggles over the environment incite such passion and conflict? 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 Suburban 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 poses that many environmental problems and issues can be best understood by looking at the intersection between the political economy of nature and society, and the cultural politics of the environment. I ask students to apply theoretical and methodological insights from political ecology and cultural theory to understand the relationship between environmental issues and contemporary debates about culture, economy and society. Readings and assignments emphasize understanding and effectively describing the relational histories of nature, uneven development and trans-local politics. The course will prepare students to ask how and why political, economic, and social dynamics are often left out of common understandings of environmental conflicts and management decisions, and to creatively construct their own critical analysis and practice of environmental politics. Students attend several field trips during the quarter.

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.

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.

Recommended preparation

This course brings together graduate students from different disciplines and programs. We will work collaboratively connecting diverse disciplinary questions, theories and methods to explore the emerging interdisciplinary field of environmental politics.

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 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: 02/02/2010