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Durham University

Faculty Handbook Archive

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2017-18. The current handbook year is 2020-21

Department: Geography


Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Available in 2017/18 Module Cap Location Durham


  • Any Level 2 Geography module


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To develop an empirical, analytical, and conceptual grounding for understanding and engaging with claims regarding human impacts on the Earth system
  • To enhance understanding of the normative challenges of environmental politics in complex systems
  • To encourage critical reflection on the sites and scales that contribute to environmental inequality


  • Humans are radically transforming the Earth system. This transformation is of such scale and significance that a proposed new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene, is now widely used to acknowledge it. This module engages the challenges of living with others—politics—in this epoch. It examines the inequalities that the Anthropocene is premised upon, many of which are exacerbated by Earth’s material and energetic throughput being directed through existing systems of economics, governance, ethics, and politics.
  • The first half of the module considers how claims about the Anthropocene are subject to ethical, political, and governance challenges. Key contests include whether to: (1) retrofit or abandon existing institutions (i.e. the United Nations), (2) use western or non-western sciences to link human and geologic history, (3) reject the Anthropocene as reinforcing, rather than challenging, North-South relations, or, (4) replace the emphasis on human impacts with a focus on the drivers of environmental and social inequality.
  • The second half of the module uses carefully selected case studies to connect political themes to both the geological considerations of the Anthropocene and to social inequalities. These themes and considerations include: (1) Representation, and assumptions of environmental policy; (2) Knowledge production, and practices of resource management; (3) Action, and institutions for governing environmental change, and (4) Reconciliation, and the histories (often colonial) affecting sites of inequality.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Cogently articulate how the politics of the Anthropocene connect geologic and social phenomena in historical, empirical, and cultural terms
  • Identify and evaluate the judgments used to reduce social and environmental complexity in claims about the political possibilities for governing the Earth system
  • Compare key dimensions of political representation, knowledge, action, and reconciliation to geologic sites of social and political inequality
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Think comprehensively about the normative judgments that affect claims regarding the state of the Earth system
  • Detail the key conceptual contests shaping debates over environmental politics in the Anthropocene
  • Evaluate how the nature of claims regarding human impacts on the Earth system affects political possibilities for environmental governance
Key Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate conceptual and analytic communication skills in written form
  • Compare concrete sites of inequality to the global politics of representation, knowledge production, political action, and reconciliation
  • Structure and refine complex research topics and issues into clear and actionable projects

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Part one of the module involves a series of lectures (including in-class exercises and discussions) designed to provide students with a conceptual vocabulary and empirical understanding of the Anthropocene. Through a complementary focus on how the Anthropocene affects global environmental politics, the first half of the module provides context for the case-study tutorials in the second half of the module.
  • The tutorials allow students to actively collaborate, shape, and question key geographical and political topics regarding human transformations of the Earth system. In the tutorials, concrete case studies are used to provide entry points to key political themes of: (1) Representing, (2) Knowing, (3) Acting, and, (4) Reconciling.
  • Through individual and group work the tutorials allow students to develop conceptual and analytical frameworks in preparation for the final research paper. In the pro-seminar, students will be required to come prepared to have an in-depth, small group discussion with the instructor on one of the four themes above and based on an assigned reading corresponding to it.
  • Two outcomes of the pro-seminar are that students are provided opportunity to develop their own ideas further and, through discussion, to develop a specialized bibliography on their chosen theme. The tutorials and pro-seminar are designed to support the assessed research paper for the module. In consultation with the instructor, students may write on any issue of global environmental politics provided: (1) it is relevant to the module material, and (2) it engages the theme of the pro-seminar they took part in.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 5 Weekly - first half of module 2 hours 10
Tutorials 4 Weekly - second half of module 1.5 hours 6
Small Group Pro-Seminars 1 Once 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 82
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Research Paper Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Research Paper Max 5 sides A4 100%

Formative Assessment:

Students will receive written feedback on individual work in tutorial seminars (i.e. short, in-class exercises). Oral feedback will be provided on group work during tutorial seminars and on individual contributions to the pro-seminar.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University