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Unit information: Apocalypse or Ecotopia? Green Political Thought in 2018/19

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Unit name Apocalypse or Ecotopia? Green Political Thought
Unit code POLI20008
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Parrott
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


Over the last three decades, prominent geologists and – increasingly – social scientists, have argued that the Earth is entering a new geological era: the Anthropocene. Human activity, they argue, has altered the Earth’s climatic and other natural systems to the extent that the geo-physical make-up of the planet and its atmosphere has been irrevocably changed. In this unit we explore the political, social, cultural, economic and ecological causes and consequences of this transformation, and ask whether humanity currently stands on the precipice of ecological ‘apocalypse’ or whether an ‘ecotopian’ future is both pragmatically possible and normatively desirable.

Throughout the unit we apply core environmental concepts, such as ‘the tragedy of the commons’, ‘limits to growth’ and ‘ecological footprints’ to case-study analyses from the global North and South in order to critically evaluate the value of distinct strands of green political thought to political theorising in the Anthropocene. In doing so, we simultaneously interrogate and critique dominant, liberal environmentalist and ecological modernisation responses to a range of ecological problems, including climate change, deforestation, land degradation and biodiversity loss.

Unit aims:

  • To encourage student understanding of, and interest in, a range of ecological problems, including the causes and consequences of these problems.
  • To develop student appreciation of the connections between environmental theory and philosophies, policy and practice, and the range of actors that have input into these processes.
  • To enhance understanding of the complexity of the relationship between the environment, economics, politics and socio-cultural factors.
  • To extend student key skills in independent research, group work, essay writing and ICT.

Intended learning outcomes

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

  1. Describe the core arguments of a range of authors in green political thought.
  2. Situate these arguments in terms of the authors’ green political perspective.
  3. Analytically apply core green concepts, such as ‘the tragedy of the commons’, ‘limits to growth’, ‘ecological footprints’, ‘bioregionalism’ and ‘ecotopia’, to case study examples from the global North and / or South.
  4. Analyse and critique dominant discourses of environmentalism and ecological modernisation approaches to sustainability, from a variety of ‘ecologising’ perspectives, such as: eco-feminism; eco-structuralism; post-ecologism; political ecology; eco-anarchism.
  5. Demonstrate key skills in evaluation, speaking and listening, independent research, group work, essay writing and ICT.

Teaching details

One hour lecture and one hour seminar per week. Two hour workshop every other week.

Assessment Details

Summative Assessment 1: Group Conference Poster Presentation (20%)

In groups of three, students are required to research, design and present a Conference Poster on one of the following conceptual themes: ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’; ‘Limits to Growth’; ‘Ecological Footprints’, ‘Bioregionalism’, ‘Ecotopia’.

The assessment will comprise three component parts: group based research, design and production of an A0 sized Conference Poster, using PowerPoint (10%); 15 minute group presentation / Q&A (5%); 500 word written self-reflection on the group work component of the assessment (5%).

This assessment assesses Learning Outcomes 3, 4 and 5.

Summative Assessment 2: Essay, 3000 words (80%)

This assessment assesses Learning Outcomes 1, 2, 4 and 5).

Reading and References

Barry, John (2012) The Politics of Actually Existing Unsustainability: Human Flourishing in a Climate-Changed, Carbon-Constrained World, Oxford: OUP.

Chasek, P. S., Downie, D. L. & Welsh Brown, J., (2014) Global Environmental Politics: Dilemmas in World Politics, Sixth Edition, Boulder CO: Westview Press.

Dobson, Andrew (2007) Green Political Thought, London: Routledge.

Dryzek, John (2013) The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourse, Oxford: OUP.

Dryzek, John, Norgaard, Richard and Schlosberg, David (2013) Climate-Challenged Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hannis, Mike (2016) Freedom and the Environment: Autonomy, Human Flourishing and the Political Philosophy of Sustainability, London: Routledge.

Levitas, Ruth (2013) Utopia as Method: the Imaginary Reconstitution of Society, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Naguib Pellow, David (2015) Total Liberation: The Power and Promise of Animal Rights and the Radical Earth Movement, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press