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Unit information: Environmental Entanglements: Issues in Ecocriticsm in 2020/21

Unit name Environmental Entanglements: Issues in Ecocriticsm
Unit code MODL30032
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Stephens
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Modern Languages
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will be taught by Dr Nicola Thomas

This unit uses contemporary ecocritical theory to explore the relationship between human culture and the environment in the context of the ongoing global climate emergency. Working with Karen Barad’s theory of ‘entanglements’, those knots and webs of relations which shape our understanding of nature and culture (Barad, 2007), students will examine issues of current relevance in environmental debates. We will evaluate representations of the ‘entanglements’ between human and non-human, subject and object, self and other, drawing on film, visual art and literature from various cultural traditions. Students will also have the opportunity to feed in texts and materials from their own areas of expertise. We will consider what ‘intra-actions’ (Barad, 2007) of matter and meaning are taking shape in these representations and ask what can be learnt about the climate emergency by applying this theoretical lens to these objects of study. How does thinking through our entanglements encourage us, as Donna Haraway puts it, to ‘stay with the trouble’ (2016)? And what does such an approach imply in terms of activism, lifestyle and political engagement?

We will begin with an introduction to recent ecocriticism, particularly the work of Barad and Haraway. The unit will then move on to issues of current relevance: topics of study may include animal rights, waste and consumerism, energy cultures, and the impact of globalisation on the climate and environment. Finally, having established the applicability of this theory in abstract terms, we will then consider how this body of theory might (or might not) help us move from critical thinking to critical engagement and action.

The unit aims:

  • To give students a grounding in contemporary ecocritical theory.
  • To encourage students to apply this theory to case studies and use it to think through topics of contemporary importance.
  • To debate the relevance of this theory for contemporary climate activism and action.
  • To develop skills in reading theoretical texts and in interpreting cultural products across languages.

Intended learning outcomes

On completion of this unit, successful students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of contemporary ecocritical theory.

2. Apply this theory to the analysis of cultural artefacts, including texts, films, visual art and other media.

3. Critically evaluate their own position in relation to issues of climate and environment.

4. Develop presentation, research, and academic writing skills appropriate to level H.

5. Formulate an independent project of their own for assessment.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminar discussion and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation

Assessment Details

  • 1 x 15-minute podcast (40%), testing ILOs 1, 3, 4 and 5.
  • 1 x 3,500-word project essay (60%) devised by students on a topic of their choice in consultation with the Unit Director, testing ILOs 1, 2, 4 and 5.

Reading and References

Barad, Karen, Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Duke UP, 2007)

Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke UP, 2009)

Tsing, Anna, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton IP, 2015)

Haraway, Donna, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke UP, 2016)

Yusoff, Kathryn, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Minnesota UP, 2019)

Wentzel, Jennifer, The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature (Fordham UP, 2019)