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Political Ecology and Sustainability

MESS55, 7.5 Credits

The course introduces students to the interdisciplinary field of political ecology as an approach to understand and analyze the interactions between social and environmental change.

The course focuses on the ‘political’ character of sustainability issues, that is, the necessarily power-laden nature of both sustainability problems themselves, and the solutions that are proposed to address them. The course provides an overview of the main theoretical concepts, debates and methodological approaches in current political ecology research. The introduction to theoretical debates is complemented with empirical case studies from different parts of the world to illustrate specific thematic focuses. The knowledge acquired in the course is meant to provide one of the theoretical building blocks that students can draw on for their thesis work, and later apply in future work, for instance teaching, research, journalism, environmental and development work.

The course is structured around four key themes, which aim to both give the student an overall understanding of political ecology as an approach in relation to questions of sustainability, and provide more in-depth engagements with some of the main topics in contemporary political ecology:

  1. Introduction to political ecology: This theme introduces the course and focuses on the emergence and development of political ecology as an analytical approach (rather than a coherent theory) and provides an overview of fundamental assumptions, concepts, key debates and current streams of political ecology research.
  2. Power and social difference in local-global relations: This theme focuses on how multi-scalar analysis can be applied to understand and analyze how environmental degradation and natural resource use at local scales is connected to and influenced by broader political economy conditions and global environmental change processes. It introduces feminist political ecology scholarship and intersectionality as an analytical tool to analyze how overlapping relations of power rooted in class, gender, race and ethnicity shape, and are shaped by, the environment and natural resource use.
  3. Environmental narratives and representations: This theme focuses on critical examinations of environmental narratives and representations of ‘nature’. We will look into questions such as: how are particular sustainability challenges typically represented and who has the power to influence problem framings? How and why have certain narratives on environmental degradation and change emerged and persisted? And what are the consequences in terms of environmental governance and interventions?
  4. Ecology and materiality in political ecology: This theme focuses on potential tensions between material and constructivist perspectives in relation to environmental issues, and ongoing debates on engagements with the ‘political’ and the ‘ecology’ in political ecology scholarship. In this part of the course, we explore the various ways in which political ecology scholarship engages with the biophysical and material dimensions of environmental processes and how these influence how problems are understood and portrayed.

Literature list

Literature list, established 2023-06-07 PDF (438 kB)


Extremely helpful for the thesis process! Whether I end up using political ecology or not in my thesis it has forced me to think about what science can do and I want my thesis to do.


Student, Batch 22