Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


MIT undergraduate students need the permission of the instructor.

Course Description

This graduate-level class offers an ethnographically-oriented take on key environmental issues and one that uses contestation as a point of entry. We will consider what is at stake in various environmental conflicts for a range of human social groups as well as for non-humans and the environment. Rather than analyzing the "social" and the "natural" as separate domains, this class begins with the assumption that the two are co-constituted through their relationships with the other. In addition to considering a variety of theoretical frameworks that offer a useful "toolkit" for thinking about environmental conflict, we will focus on a number of often contentious issues, including: ideas of "nature" and the politics and practices of nature conservation; the links between toxic pollution and health effects; the complexity of human / non-human relations as seen through the lens of multispecies frameworks; and debates over crucial contemporary issues ranging from climate change to natural gas exploration. The class will explore the various ways these conflicts play out in different geographic and socionatural settings. It will also examine questions over the nature of knowledge and expertise within these debates; tensions and alliances among scientists, social scientists, activists, and a broader public; and the role of media in understanding such conflicts. The class encourages active exploration of such topics through field trips, a final research paper, and exercises based on contemporary conflicts including the lead crisis in Flint, MI.

Class Requirements

Given that classes form communities over the course of the semester and that this class meets only one day per week, class attendance is crucial. Missing classes will result in a lowered grade.

Students are responsible for all required weekly readings; however, different students may focus on particular readings for class discussion. Students are responsible for writing a 1–2 page reaction paper based on the readings (or another assigned topic) for each week's class for a total of eight reaction papers. (Two weeks of your own choosing, you'll be allowed to skip writing a reaction paper. Think of it as your "get out of jail free" card to be used on two dates when your schedule is particularly rough!). Papers are due in the class for which the reading is assigned. Please note you are not responsible for reading "recommended readings"—these readings are merely FYI, for consideration for final papers or for future exploration.

Students are also responsible for a 20 page final research paper exploring a particular environmental conflict. Each student will also give a 10 minute oral presentation based on their research paper during the last class session. Final paper topics will be due during Session 7 and a detailed outline during Session 10. The final paper is due the last day of class.

Grading Policy

Reaction papers (8) 40%
Final research paper 40%
Oral presentation and class participation 20%

Required Books

Buy at Amazon Haraway, Donna. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003. ISBN: 9780971757585.

Buy at Amazon Callison, Candis. How Climate Change Comes to Matter: The Communal Life of Facts. Duke University Press Books, 2014. ISBN: 9780822357872.

Other readings can be found in the Readings section.