Course description: Critical thinking about the diverse influences shaping ecological and environmental sciences. Topics include ideas of nature; conservation and colonialism; systems thinking; population growth and futures modeling; the tragedy of the commons; stability and complexity; environmental economics; local knowledge; commodities and environmental history; agriculture and biotechnology; and socio-environmental analysis. We interpret episodes in science, past and present, in light of scientists' historical location, economic and political interests, use of language, and ideas about causality and responsibility. Readings, class activities, and written assignments are designed so that you develop interpretive skills and explore your own intellectual and practical responses to controversies in environment and society.
Sessions combine lectures, discussions, and other activities. Weekly handouts will
describe the classes ahead and how they build on what we have already done, explain the
unfamiliar terms (including those marked * in this syllabus), review the themes and
questions we have addressed, and specify assignments. This course will require
considerable reading, writing and revising, and work on learning skills, especially
collaboration in small groups. Be prepared.
Course goals: The most important goals of this course are that you i) actively ask questions about the shape and direction of inquiries in ecology and environmental studies -- not just during class time, but all the time -- and ii) develop your ability to express your own synthesis of issues succintly. With these goals in mind the course involves various kinds of writing, preparation, and participation in the teaching/learning dynamics*.
Texts: No texts need to be purchased. Xeroxes of most readings that you need to read
and bring to class will be provided. I recommend that you buy a 3 ring binder to store
the readings and other xeroxes in. Note that a few of the required readings and other
readings are only on reserve, i.e., they are not among the xeroxes supplied to you. These
reserve items will be in Cornell science library.
In areas where your background in biology or history is weak you will need to do additional prescribed reading before some of the classes.
Assessment: This is divided into two parts: Participation 30%; Written assignments
For each part, 80% of assignments satisfactorily completed earns a B+. The idea in not grading assignments and other work is that more time and attention can be given to comments and other teaching/ learning interactions. (Below 80%, grade is pro-rated, i.e., 0% gives D-; 70% gives B, except that if participation is less than 2/3, the overall grade cannot be higher than the participation grade. The idea is that completing assignments cannot substitute for participation in class.)
To have a chance (but not a guarantee) of getting more than B+, additional work is needed.
For Participation: Attendance and Notecard exercises*
Written assignments: Submitted by due date and resubmitted until satisfactory. Last date for resubmissions is December 4
Additional work, in considering whether more than B+ is to be given=
For Participation: high attendance, active participation, special effort when leading activities, commentary on teaching/learning dynamics
For Written assignments: Final take home exam (requiring of short, medium, and essay-length answers), to be distributed on December 4 and due by 12 noon December 18.
SYLLABUS (Provisional -- Some classes may take more than one session and/or lead us into further unscheduled inquiries).
In what follows "Angle" denotes the introduction of a major angle of illumination (aka interpretive theme* or heuristic*) for the course. During some phases of the course, more than one angle may be emphasized, and themes once introduced continue to be woven into subsequent classes.
1. Introduction I
Key terms for teaching/learning dynamics: critical thinking*, angles of illumination*, illustrated through a class simulation on the "Population problem"
Meffe, G. K., A. H. Ehrlich and D. Ehrenfeld (1993). "Human population control: The missing agenda." Conservation Biology 7(1): 1-3 (xerox)
2. Introduction II
A contrasting image to the central critical thinking strand of the course: Complex socio-environmental analysis* in terms of intersecting processes* -- a case study of soil erosion in Oaxaca, Mexico.
This lead into a presentation of the overall intellectual schema for the course.
Angle I Ideas about nature as (historically and socially located) ideas about society
3. Interpretation of the explicit and implicit, literal and non-literal. Biological similies for society (clippings) and images of society and nature in the West since the middle ages (slide show)
4. Meeting in base groups* (In these groups students review material, share views, help each other, and undertake other activities with my guidance, but not my direct supervision.) Activities include interpreting some Gary Larson "far side" cartoons; pre-reading of Williams for class 5.
5. Changes and contradictions in ideas about nature
Williams, R. (1980). "Ideas of Nature," in Problems in materialism and culture. London, Verso, 67-85. (xerox)
6. Darwin as an ecologist and a Victorian; tensions in his ideas about nature
Darwin, C. (1859 ). "Chapter 3" in On the Origin of Species, 60-79. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (xerox)
Worster, D. (1979). "Scrambling for a place," in Nature's economy. New York: Anchor Books, 145-169. (reserve)
7. More recent views about stability/ change and complexity of ecosystems
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. (xerox)
Botkin, D. (1990). Chapters 1 & 2 in Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-first Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 3-25.
8. Base groups (Trialogue on social interpretation of ideas about nature; comparing Williams, Worster, and Botkin)
Angle II. Episodes in C20 conservation and ecological science (extending
angle I to scientific practice and ideas)
9a. "Animals are both like and unlike humans" Zoos, conservation, and the marginalization of both animals and peoples
Berger, J. (1980). "Why Look at Animals?," in About Looking. New York, Pantheon Books, 1-26 (xerox)
9b, 10a. Conservation and early C20 colonialism, patriarchy, eugenics.
Haraway, D. J. (1984/1985). "Teddy bear patriarchy: Taxidermy in the garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936." Social Text 11: 20-64 (xerox).
10b. Extending Harawayian interpretation to the late C20: Donna Haraway reads National Geographic (video)
Angle III: Causes proposed are related to the person's favored views of
Plus Angle II continued
11. Systems: Cybernetics and ecology in the atomic age
Odum, H. T. (1971). "Chaps. 1, part 2, 11," in Environment, Power & Society. New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1-41, 304-310. (reserve)
12. Base groups (review Haraway; interpret ecological diagrams)
Angle IV: Hidden complexity in simple formulations &
Plus Angles II & III continued
13. Systems of selfish individuals: The tragedy of the commons
Hardin, G. (1968). "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science 162: 1243-1248. (xerox)
14. Models of Global change; The Limits to Growth and Global climate models
Meadows, D., D. Meadows, J. Randers and W. W. Behrens (1972). The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books, excerpts (reserve)
Glantz, M. (Ed.) (1989). Societal Responses to Regional Climatic Change: Forecasting by Analogy. Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1-7, 407-428 (reserve)
15. World views; the case of market environmentalism*
Schwarz, M. and M. Thompson (1990). Divided We Stand: Redefining Politics, Technology, and Social Choice. London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1-13 (xerox).
Pearce, D., A. Markandya and E. Barbier (1989). "Prices and incentives," in Blueprint for a Green Economy. London, Earthscan, 154-172 (reserve).
16. Base groups (digest & classify responses from previous class; apply interpretive schemas from class 1 & 14; critique examples of commons talk)
17. Local knowledge, peasant/ indigenous rationality, or Westerners' romanticism?
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.(xerox)
Shift from angles II-IV to
Angle V: Environmental thought and science in relation to material production.
18. "Coercive conservation"* in 80s and 90s
Peluso, N. (1993). "Coercing conservation: The politics of state resource control." Global environmental change 3(2): 199-217 (reserve)
19. Europeans, commodities, and changes in New England; contrasting historical
Cronon, W. (1983). Changes in the Land. New York, Hill and Wang, 3- 15, 159-170. (xerox)
20. Base groups (history without an emphasis on commodities)
21. Commodities in relation to social and ecological transformations
Rowling, N. (1987). "Introduction," in Commodities: How the world was taken to market. London, Free Association Books, 7-21. (xerox)
22. Science and commodities: The breeding of hybrid corn and the green revolution.
Lewontin, R. (1982). "Agricultural Research & the Penetration of Capital." Science for the People(January/February): 12-17. (xerox)
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 (reserve).
23. "Directed autonomy" and the rise of biotechnology.
Yoxen, E. (1983). "The Life Industry," in The Gene Business, Who should control biotechnology? London, Free Association Books, 1-56. (reserve)
Angle VI. Disciplining, without suppressing the complexities of
environmental, scientific, and social change
and Angle V continued.
24. Construction of commodities and the politics of production in agroecology
Taylor synopsis of three articles by R. Schroeder, including "'Re-claiming' land in The Gambia: Gendered property rights and environmental intervention." Annals of the Association of American Geographers, in press.(xerox)
Taylor, P. J. (1998). "Inseparable and distributed complexity: Three projects for mapping and negotiating social-natural processes," in F. Fischer and M. Hajer (Eds.), Living With Nature (xeroxed excerpt recalling class 2)
25. A thicket of disciplinary paths to negotiate
Richards, P. (1983). "Ecological change and the politics of land use." African Studies Review 26: 1-72.(reserve)
26. Taking Stock of the Course (NOTE: This session will probably be held on an evening before the scheduled date of December 9)