University of Massachusetts at Boston
College of Education and Human Development, Critical & Creative Thinking Program
University Honors Program

Environment, Science & Society: Critical Thinking

CrCrTh640/Honors 380-01
Fall 2010

Instructor: Peter Taylor, Critical & Creative Thinking Program
Phone: 617-287-7636
Office: Wheatley 2nd floor, room 157
Class meetings: Mondays September 13 -December 13 (exc. Oct. 11) Office/phone call hours: Monday 2.40-3.40; Tuesday 3.20-4, 5.30-6.30pm by sign up ( or by arrangement
Websites: and links
Private wikispaces for assignment submission: (where xx is your last name; username & password as for your email)
Course wikipage for additional info & for sharing work for peer commentary:
Listserv/discussion forum: Emails sent to will go to everyone in the course
Annotated bibliography and WWW bookmarks:


Through current and historical cases, this course explores the diverse influences that shape environmental science and politics and their pedagogical, professional, social, and moral implications for educators, environmental professionals, and concerned citizens.

Overview for 2010

Current and historical cases are used to examine the diverse influences that shape environmental science and politics. This exploration, in turn, leads to new questions and alternative approaches for students and concerned citizens. Such critical thinking is applied to topics such as ideas of nature, conservation and colonialism, systems thinking, population growth, climate modeling, the tragedy of the commons, socioenvironmental analysis, local knowledge & participatory planning, transnational economics, and dystopian futures.
Students are, at the same time, introduced to a range of perspectives and tools for developing research questions, writing, and collaborations that support inquiry and action. Each 2.5 hour, once-per-week course session includes time for students to practice applying the new perspectives and tools to an environmental topic of their own interest. These tools and perspectives include guided freewriting, personal/professional development workbooks, problem-based learning (PBL), annotating and sharing bibliography entries online, diagramming and mapping complex connections, the dialogue process, strategic participatory/ stakeholder planning process, peer commentary and cooperative group work, historical analysis of key terms (e.g., nature, science, environment, society, critical), dialogue around written work (revision in response to comments), and more.
Regular, small writing assignments and revisions are required and a modest amount of reading. Students can expect to spend 5-7 hours/week preparing for the course outside class meetings. An extended overview and details about sessions are given on the course wiki.

PREREQUISITES and preparation assumed for this course

Graduate standing or permission of instructor. In lieu of other formal prerequisites, your previous studies and other experience should have prepared you to consider a range of perspectives and tools for developing research questions, writing, and collaborations that support inquiry and action. Additional preparation valuable for the course is the ability to formulate and pursue library and internet research and to write, seek feedback, and revise in systematic and efficient ways with minimal supervision (see research and study competencies).

ACCOMMODATIONS: Sections 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 offer guidelines for curriculum modifications and adaptations for students with documented disabilities. If applicable, students may obtain adaptation recommendations from the Ross Center (287-7430). The student must present these recommendations to each professor within a reasonable period, preferably by the end of the Drop/Add period.

Students are advised to retain a copy of this syllabus in personal files for use when applying for certification, licensure, or transfer credit.
This syllabus is subject to change, but workload expectations will not be increased after the semester starts. (Version 16 January 2012; changes after the start of the semester are marked in blue)


Sections To Follow In Syllabus

Texts and Materials
Electronic organization and competencies
Schedule of Sessions, Preparation and related handouts, Assignment due dates Bibliography


Required: Taylor, P. (2005). Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Recommended to help with writing: Daniel, D., C. Fauske, P. Galeno and D. Mael (2001). Take Charge of Your Writing: Discovering Writing Through Self-Assessment. Boston: Houghton Mifflin ("new" copies available well below list price on
Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with Power. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. (old editions are OK)
(See also Conlin; Kanar; Perelman, et al.; Turabian)

Other than Unruly Complexity, most readings for the course are individual articles and book chapters that can be downloaded through password protected site.


All course materials can be accessed via the online version of this syllabus together with your personal wikipage for assignment submission (where xx = your last name). You should create a bookmark to: 1. the table of contents for this syllabus (; and 2. your CCT-xx 640checklist wikipage, then use these as your portals to any other course materials. (It might also help to bookmark password protected site for readings and additional information to prepare for sessions and follow-up afterward that will be posted during the semester on the course wiki,
The specific technological competencies you will need for this course are described at


More detail about the assignments and expectations is provided in the Notes section of the course wiki, and will be supplemented when needed by emails to course listserv. (The same details can also be viewed via links to your CCT-xx 640checklist page and

A. Written assignments(2/3 of grade)

The course project is a plan for your future research and engagement on a topic that involves environment, science, and their relation to social context. Engagement might range from teaching, to activism, to personal/professional development, and it also means you are engaged--the topic is one you want to learn more about.
The plan should include the topic, review of relevant publications, and steps in the process of research and engagement (1500-2500 words).
Your topic and research plan are developed through a sequence of assignments:

Participation and contribution to the class process (1/3 of grade)

B. Building learning community through prepared participation and attendance at class meetings(=13 items) and B2. "syllabus quiz" submitted in session 2 and B3. Weekly buddy check-ins (see C1, below) (=3 items for 12 check-ins).
C. Personal/Professional Development (PD) Workbook compiled throughout the semester (9 items), including: D. Minimum of two in-office or phone conferences on your assignments, PD workbook, personal wikipage, and project -- one before session 6; the other by session 10 (=2 items)
E. Peer commentary on your buddy's work in each 4-week period and on another student's draft report (with copy posted on peer share wiki) (=4 items)

The grading system is simple, but unusual, so ask questions to make sure you have it clear: Students should aim for all writing and presentation assignments submitted on the due date and seven, including the complete report, OK/RNR (=OK/ Reflection-revision-resubmission Not Requested) as well as 26 participation items fulfilled.
If you reach or exceed this amount, you get 80 points (which gives you an automatic B+) and the following rubric is used to add further points. If you don't reach the automatic B+ level, your points = 7 for each writing assignment (or presentation) that is marked OK/RNR + 3 for each other writing assignment initially submitted by the due date + 1 for each participation item fulfilled up to a maximum of 80.

Overall course points are converted to letter grades as follows: The minimum grade for A is 95 points, for A- is 87.5, for B+ is 80, for B is 72.5; for B- is 65; for C+ is 57.5; for C is 50; and for undergraduates only: for C- minimum is 47; for D+ is 44; for D is 41; for D- is 38.
(In theory it is possible for a student to earn 104 points, but this would still be awarded an A.)

The difference in expectations for graduate and undergraduate students lies in what will be accepted as OK/RNR for written assignments and what counts as "fulfilled very well," "did an OK job," "still needs serious attention" in the rubric above.
Plagiarism: Using another person's ideas or material you did not write without citing the source is plagiarism and is unacceptable (see library guide and Academic Honesty policies).


To prepare for sessions and follow-up afterward consult the additional information that will be posted during the semester on the course wiki,

9/13, 1. Introductions
Purchase course texts
Review instructor's portfolio and past evaluations for the course
Begin to get set up technologically
Typical components of class sessions--Ideas, activities, workshop on application to students' projects--and relation to course goals.
Activity: How do we know if we have a population-environment problem?
Workshop: Introduction to Problem-Based Learning (PBL) case, initial freewriting, student introductions and initial ideas.
Follow-up:B2. Syllabus quiz; Exploration on the internet to find an initial angle related to the PBL scenario that you want to investigate; Email the instructor a progress report on what you have been looking into

9/20, 2. PBL: "Moving beyond global environmental polarization" I
Preparation and Follow-up: info
Session: Questions about syllabus, requirements, wiki, etc.
Discussion of PBL approach and Workshop on PBL case
Critical Incident Questionnaire
Work due this session: B2. Syllabus quiz

9/27, 3. PBL: "Moving beyond global environmental polarization" II
Preparation and Follow-up: info
Session:Feedback from Critical Incident Questionnaire
Work-in-progress presentations on PBL case

10/4, 4. PBL: "Moving beyond global environmental polarization" III-presentations
Preparation:PBL Presentation & Briefing (see info)
Session:Presentations to Panel
Follow-up: includes read Taylor, "How do we know.."
Work due this session: A1. Presentation & A2. Briefing

No class 10/11 (but see Columbus-day-relevant readings by Cronon, O'Hara, Stevens, Wolf)

10/18, 5. Historical changes and tensions in people's views of nature, including views of ecologists
Read: Williams, "Ideas of Nature," Worster, "Scrambling for a place" (see info)
Session: Mini-lecture: William's history of changing ideas of nature
Review of Worster to identify tensions evident in Darwin (which persist today)
Read and revise a multi-person conversation about contemporary ideas about nature.
Follow-up: includes items for reflection and possible integration into thought-piece based on additional readings:
Begon, "The influence of predation and disturbance."
Botkin, Chapters 1 & 12 from Discordant Harmonies
Worster, "Science in Arcadia & The empire of reason"

10/25, 6. Diagramming Systems of Humans and Nature
Read Taylor, Unruly Complexity, chap. 3 (see info)
Session:Interactive lecture on interpretation of diagrams, esp. of systems ecologist, H.T. Odum
Examination of diagrams related to students' topics
Follow-up: includes read Odum from Environment, Power & Society
Work due this session:A3. Thought-piece based on session 5; C2. worksheet on PD workbook and research organization; D. First in-office or phone conference before now

11/1, 7. Hidden Complexity of Simple Models
Read: Hardin, "Tragedy of the commons" (see info)
Session: Simulation of Tragedy of the commons
Identification of causal models related to students' projects and their hidden complexities.
Critical Incident Questionnaire 2
Follow-up: includes read Taylor, Unruly Complexity, chap. 6, part A
Work due this session: A4. Thought-piece based on session 6

11/8, 8. What does it take to make "nature" in some time and place?
Read: Haraway,"Teddy bear patriarchy" (see info)
Session: View and comment on Paper Tiger TV, "Donna Haraway reads national geographic"
Identifying historical research needed to interpret what lies behind students' topics
Work due this session: A5. Thought-piece based on session 7

11/15, 9. Mapping the resources mobilized in research
Read Taylor, Unruly Complexity, chap. 5, part B (see info)
Session: Mini-lecture
Mapping the resources mobilized in students' planned research
Work due this session: A6. Thought-piece based on session 8

11/22, 10. Intersecting Ecological and Social Processes
Read: Pearce, "Inventing Africa" (see info)
Session: Case of soil erosion in Oaxaca, Mexico
Tracing the intersecting ecological and social processes in Pearce, then in students' topics
Follow-up: Read Taylor, Unruly Complexity, chap. 5, part C & chap. 6
Work due this session: A7. Thought-piece based on session 9; D. Second in-office or phone conference before now

11/29, 11. Intersecting Processes II
Preparation: Read and trace the intersecting ecological and social processes in Butler's fiction (see info)
Session: Dialogue Process on the intersecting ecological and social processes in Butler's fiction
Work due this session: A8. Thought-piece based on session 10

12/6, 12. Locally centered positioning in tension with translocal
Read Taylor, Unruly Complexity, Epilogue (see info)
Session: Strategic Personal Planning in relation to student's research plan
Mini-lecture on Strategic Participatory Planning
Work due this session:A9. Complete draft plan for research

12/13, 13. Taking stock of where we have come and where we could go
Session:Historical scan
CCT course evaluation, followed by official evaluations
Work due this session:C4. Whole PD workbook ready for perusal; C5. Process Review; E. Peer commentary on another student's draft report

Work due 12/20:A10. Plan for research, revised in response to peer and instructor comments


(Readings used in preparation or follow-up to sessions)
(Other than Unruly Complexity, most readings for the course are individual articles and book chapters that can be downloaded through password protected site.)
Begon, M., J. Harper and C. Townsend (1990). "The influence of predation and disturbance on community structure," in Ecology: Individuals, Populations and Communities. Boston, Blackwell, 739-741, 793, 795.
Botkin, D. (1990). Chapters 1 & 12 in Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-first Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 3-25.
Butler, O. E. (1994, reprint 1999) in Parable of the Sower. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 45-77.
Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with Power. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Glantz, M. (Ed.) (1989). Societal Responses to Regional Climatic Change: Forecasting by Analogy. Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1-7, 407-428.
Haraway, D. J. (1984/1985). "Teddy bear patriarchy: Taxidermy in the garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936." Social Text 11: 20-64.
Hardin, G. (1968). "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science 162: 1243-1248.
Kanar, C. (2002). "Improving your paragraph skills," in The Confident Writer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 60-88.
Odum, H. T. (1971). "Chaps. 1, part of 2, 11," in Environment, Power & Society. New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1-41, 304-310.
Paper Tiger TV (1989) "Donna Haraway reads national geographic on primates" New York: Paper Tiger TV. [video available in Healey Library]
Pearce, F. (2000). "Inventing Africa." New Scientist(12 August): 30-33.
Taylor, P. J. (1997). "How do we know we have global environmental problems? Undifferentiated science-politics and its potential reconstruction," in P. J. Taylor, S. E. Halfon and P. N. Edwards (Eds.), Changing Life: Genomes, Ecologies, Bodies, Commodities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 149-174.
Taylor, P. J. (2006). "Exploring themes about social agency through interpretation of diagrams of nature and society," pp. 235-260 in How Nature Speaks: The Dynamics of the Human Ecological Condition, ed. Y. Haila and C. Dyke. Durham, NC, Duke University Press.
Taylor, P. J. (2005). Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press
Turabian, K. L. (1996). A Manual For Writers of Term papers, Theses, and Disertations. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press (in Healey reference section)
Williams, R. (1980). "Ideas of Nature," in Problems in Materialism and Culture. London, Verso, 67-85.
Worster, D. (1977). "Science in Arcadia & The empire of reason," in Nature's economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2-55.
Worster, D. (1979). "Scrambling for a place," in Nature's Economy. New York: Anchor Books, 145-169.

Supplementary Bibliograhy

(These and other additional readings may be recommended for deeper consideration of the issues raised in both environmental sciences and in interpretation and critical thinking).
Berger, J. (1980). "Why Look at Animals?," in About Looking. New York, Pantheon Books, 1-26.
CEDAC(Community Economic Development Advisory Committee) (1995). Our Economy: Our Future, Final Report. York, Ontario: City of York.
Cronon, W. (1983). Changes in the Land. New York, Hill and Wang, 3-15, 159-170.
Lappe, F. M. and J. Collins (1986). "The Green Revolution Is the Answer," in World Hunger Twelve Myths. New York, NY, Grove Press, Inc., 48-66.
Lewontin, R. (1982). "Agricultural Research & the Penetration of Capital." Science for the People(January/February): 12-17.
Meadows, D., D. Meadows, J. Randers and W. W. Behrens (1972). The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books, 157-197.
Meffe, G. K., A. H. Ehrlich and D. Ehrenfeld (1993). "Human population control: The missing agenda." Conservation Biology 7(1): 1-3.
O'Hara, S., F. A. Street-Perrott and T. P. Burt (1993). "Accelerated soil erosion around a Mexican highland lake caused by prehispanic agriculture." Nature 362(4 Mar.): 48-51.
Pearce, D., A. Markandya and E. Barbier (1989). "Prices and incentives," in Blueprint for a Green Economy. London, Earthscan, 154-172.
Peluso, N. (1993). "Coercing conservation: The politics of state resource control." Global environmental change 3(2): 199-217.
Rowling, N. (1987). "Introduction," in Commodities: How the world was taken to market. London, Free Association Books, 7-21.
Schwarz, M. and M. Thompson (1990). Divided We Stand: Redefining Politics, Technology, and Social Choice. London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1-13.
Stevens, W. K. (1993). "An Eden in ancient America? Not really." New York Times(31 Mar.).
Taylor, P. J. (2001). "Critical tensions and non-standard lessons from the "tragedy of the commons"," for M. Maniates (Ed.), Empowering Knowledge: A Primer for Teachers and Students of Global Environmental Politics. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
Taylor, P. J. (2008). "Developing Critical Thinking is Like a Journey," pp. 155-169 in Teachers and Teaching Strategies, Problems and Innovations. Ed. G. F. Ollington. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2008.
(earlier version)
Toledo, V. (1990). "The ecological rationality of peasant production," in M. Altieri and S. Hecht (Eds.), Agroecology and small farm development. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 53-60.
Wolf, E. (1982). "Europe, prelude to expansion," in Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 101-125.