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Environment and Society

Module titleEnvironment and Society
Module codeSOC3097
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Astrid Schrader (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module introduces you to methodologies and approaches in Science and Technology Studies as they pertain to the analysis of environmental problems. We will explore how science, technology and society interact to determine what counts as an environmental problem. We will ask, for example:
- How are possible responses to environmental crises shaped by technological development and assumptions about what counts as ‘nature’?
- How do regulatory institutions deal with uncertainties in science?
- Who is an expert and who contributes to environmental knowledge production?
- How is environmental risk regulated in different countries?
- What is the relationship between science and politics in various approaches to environmental problems?
These questions will be investigated with the help of a range of case studies. You will become familiar with debates around climate change, genetically modified foods, biodiversity, invasive species, indoor pollution and analyse responses to environmental disasters such as Chernobyl, Bhopal, Hurricane Katarina.
The module consists of a combination of lectures and seminar based discussions of pre-assigned readings. There are no prerequisites and it is suitable for non-specialist students in the social and natural sciences, the humanities and engineering and is highly appropriate for students following interdisciplinary pathways.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module explores how science, technology and society interact to determine what counts as an environmental problem. The aim of the module is to familiarize you with a wide range of environmental problems and methodologies to analyse them. An important focus will be the role of science and divergent understandings of nature in the analysis of environmental issues. You will learn how interdisciplinary approaches to controversies over environmental problems may complicate the debates and read popular media reports of environmental issues more critically. We will discuss the meanings, political uses, and abuses of uncertainties in science, the affirmations of risks and the relationships between environmental and social justice.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate a clear understanding of different approaches to environmental problem and different roles of science.
  • 2. Critically asses conflicting meanings of scientific evidence, social responsibility, uncertainty in science and politics, and critically assess the depiction of environmental problems in popular media and the relationship between social and environmental justice

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 3. demonstrate critical awareness and understanding of a range of social scientific, historical, and philosophical perspectives;
  • 4. identify the core theoretical assumptions
  • 5. apply a range of theoretical and interpretive perspectives to the task of sociological and anthropological analysis;
  • 6. demonstrate appreciation of the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of different and competing social scientific, historical, and philosophical perspectives.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. reflect on, and examine critically, taken-for-granted social, cultural and ethical assumptions, beliefs and values;
  • 8. analyse, evaluate, and communicate, clearly and directly, a wide range of explanatory and interpretive theoretical perspectives; assess evidence, marshal facts and construct arguments

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:

Introduction: Nature and the Environment in Science and Technology Studies
GM Foods
Climate Controversies and Consensus
Un/natural disaster
Scientific Uncertainties and Environmental Health
Wilderness Discourses and Social Natures
Environment and Social Justice
Making Species: Natives, Aliens and Endangered
Biodiversity: Concepts, Discourses and Practices
Experts, Laypeople and Other Animals
BSE Crisis – a British Example of “Risk Society”

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 activity22The module will be taught a combination of lectures and seminar based discussions, meeting for two hours each week. It is essential that students complete all assigned readings before class and be prepared to discuss them in class. The seminar portion consists of student presentations, group discussions or film presentations and media analysis.
Guided Independent study56Readings for seminars
Guided Independent study10Preparation for seminar presentation
Guided Independent study62Researching and writing the essay


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Participation in seminar discussions; presentations of reading summariesWeekly1-8Verbal feedback

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
Essay proposal/ plan201000 words1-8Written feedback
Research essay803500 words1-8Written feedback


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay proposal/ planEssay plan/ outline (1000 words)1-8August/September assessment period
Research essayResearch essay (3500 words)1-8August/September assessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Sample reading:

Yearley, Steven (2008), 'Nature and the Environment in Science and Technology Studies', in The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Third Edition, eds. Edward J. Hackett, et al., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 921-47.

Jasanoff, Sheila (2005), Designs on Nature; Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, Chapters 4&5.

Beck, U. (1992), Risk Society, London Sage

Gusterson, Hugh (2005), 'Decoding the Debate on 'Frankenfood'', in Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties, eds. Betsy Hartmann, Banu Subramaniam, and Charles Zerner, Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 109-33.

Latour, Bruno (2007), 'A Plea for Earthly Sciences', keynote lecture for the annual meeting of the British Sociological Association, East London, April 2007.

Smith, Neil (2005), 'There's No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster', in Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from the Social Sciences. SSRC Forum, New York, NY: Social Science Research Council.

Murphy, Michelle (2006), Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers; Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Chapters 4 & 5.

Cronon, William (1995), 'The Trouble with Wilderness or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature', in Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature, ed. William Cronon, New York: W.W. Norton and Co, pp. 69 - 90.

Helmreich, Stefan (2005), 'How Scientists Think; About ‘Natives,’ for Example: A Problem of Taxonomy among Biologists of Alien Species in Hawaii', The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 11 (1), pp. 107-27

Thompson, Charis (2002), ‘When Elephants Stand for Competing Philosophies of Nature: Amboseli National Park’, in Complexities. John Law and Annemarie Mol, eds. (Duke UP), pp. 166-90.

Hinchliffe, Steve (2001), 'Indeterminacy In-Decisions: Science, Policy and Politics in the BSE Crisis', Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 26 (2), pp. 182-204.

Adam, Barbara (1998), 'Industrial Food for Thought', in Timescapes of Modernity: The Environment & Invisible Hazards, London: Routledge, pp. 127-62.

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Environment, Society, Nature, Risk, Uncertainty, Science, Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date