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Environmental Knowledge Controversies

Module titleEnvironmental Knowledge Controversies
Module codePOC3095
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Professor Clare Saunders (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Environmental issues are a particular kind of policy issue. They are often transboundary, transmutable and difficult to solve. In other words, they are ‘wicked’. In this module we focus on contemporary wicked environmental policy issues and think about ways forward for their governance within the context of a maze of contradictory scientific evidence. We explore social theories about the nature of scientific knowledge and knowing, and the ways in which knowledge is transferred into policy. Given the difficulty of reconciling science and democracy, we also discuss solutions for effectively moving from contradictory scientific positions towards a more consensual policy position and practice. This includes consideration of the role of experts in democracy and critiquing the idea of post-truth politics. These ideas are explored through close interrogation of global, national and local environmental issues such as climate change, pesticides and bees, badger culling and street lighting.

No prior knowledge, skills or experience are required to take this module and it is suitable for specialist and non-specialist students. This course serves as a complement to The Public Policy Process.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module provides an applied introduction to environmental policy conflicts and state-of-the-art ideas for their resolution. In taking a close look at the scientific evidence base on conflictual environmental policy issues, you will come to understand how science is a socially constructed endeavour. You will be able to understand the challenges of producing consensual policy on issues that have a disputed evidence base, and which consequently polarise society.  

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the role of science in the governance of environmental issues
  • 2. understand, evaluate and critically apply a range of concepts and theories on the science-policy nexus to the governance of environmental issues
  • 3. identify and evaluate different methods for reconciling democracy with expertise, and critically assess their contribution

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. find, read, use and critically analyse secondary data relevant to specific issue areas
  • 5. construct rigorous political arguments

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. demonstrate in-depth understanding of the processes through which knowledge is socially constructed.
  • 7. work independently to produce coursework to deadlines
  • 8. communicate effectively and to evaluate critically in your written and oral work
  • 9. work in a small team to plan and execute a mock citizen conference

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

Part one: Key concepts and frameworks

Scientific paradigms

Social constructionism

The sociology of science

The science-policy nexus

Part two: Applied case studies (possible examples are given, below)

Climate change

Bees and neo-nicotinoids

Bovine tuberculosis and badger culling

Street lighting

Part three: Beyond the tension

Citizens as experts – from citizen science to lay expertise

Citizen juries and consultations

Participatory inquiry and science shops

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity2412 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study353.5 hours preparing for each seminar (from Week 2 onwards = 10 seminars)
Guided Independent Study31Preparing materials for a simulated citizen conference on an environmental policy issue; and formulating an outcome to present back to the class a week later
Guided Independent Study40Preparing essay
Guided Independent Study20Reflective diary


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Plans for citizen conferenceOne page, and a 20 minute consultation with class leader1-5, 8Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay602,5001-8Written, verbal on request
Small group citizen jury simulation20Prepare short selection of readings in advance for the class, organise a 1-hour simulation, and feedback the results one week later in a short 5-minute presentation1,4,6,8-9Written, verbal on request
Seminar participation and reflective diary201,000 words1-9Written, verbal on request


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (2,500 words)1-8August/September re-assessment period
Evaluation of citizen juries1,000 words (this can be entirely theoretical if the citizen jury simulations were missed with mitigation; but it should draw on what happened in class if the student attended)1, 4, 6, 8-9August/September re-assessment period
Seminar participation and reflective diary Individual viva and reflective diary (1,000 words)1-9August/September re-assessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Collins, F. and R. Evans (2007) Rethinking Expertise, University of Chicago Press.

David, M. (2005) Science in Society, Palgrave Macmillan.

Fischer, F. (2000) Citizens, Experts and the Enironment: The Politics of Local Knowledge, Duke University Press.

Hannigan, J. (1995) Environmental Sociology: A Social Constructionist Perspective, Routledge.

Jasonoff, S. Ad Kim, S (eds) (2015) Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power, University of Chicago.

Lash, S., B. Szerszynski and B. Wynne (eds) Risk, Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology, London: Sage.

Pettenger, M. (ed) (2013) The Social Construction of Climate Change, Routledge.

Schacker, M. (2008) A Spring Without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply, The Lyons Press.

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Environmental politics, environmental policy, environmental knowledge, social construction

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date