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Study information

Theory for Sustainable Transitions

Module titleTheory for Sustainable Transitions
Module codeGEOM145
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Catherine Butler (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module will provide a deep understanding of key sustainability theory and its relevance for practice. The focus will be on theory that has importance for understanding global sustainability solutions, including some of the theories that have been most influential within contemporary policy and practice. Through the module you will develop abilities for critical engagement with sustainability policy and practice, as well as increasing your capacities to interpret the challenges and opportunities that exist for contemporary solutions. Though social science led, the module is interdisciplinary and with a focus on practical application and reflection will be suitable for students from diverse backgrounds.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will equip you with an understanding of key influential sustainability theory and provide a firm basis for critically engaging with sustainability debates in real world contexts. Leading academics actively engaged in research on environment and sustainability will lead interactive sessions designed to enhance your critical and analytic faculties and give insight into theory that has been important in shaping agendas relating to global sustainability. There will be opportunities for peer-to-peer as well as independent learning, and expectations for you to engage in debate and discussion during module sessions.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Analyse and critically engage with current and proposed sustainability solutions
  • 2. Understand core sustainability theory and its relevance within contemporary practice
  • 3. Articulate complex theoretical ideas and engage in debate

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Analyse and discuss alternative perspectives on sustainability solutions
  • 5. Understand and evaluate different theories relevant to global sustainability and their practical implications

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Digest, interpret, and explain complex ideas
  • 7. Engage in reflexive practice and be critically aware of alternative approaches and perspectives
  • 8. Work well in groups, with interpersonal skills developed through interactive discussion and practical sessions
  • 9. Undertake independent, self-directed study and research

Syllabus plan

Led by experts in the field the module will be delivered through 2-hour lectures/workshops structured around a key theory reading. The sessions will include focused discussion analysing and developing understanding of the theoretical ideas. This will be followed by a practical workshop that aims to develop understanding of, and reflection on, the relevance of the ideas for policy and practice. The workshop activities will be highly varied and will depend on their relevance for engaging with the particular theoretical tradition. The specific theories covered each year are likely to vary depending on availability of teaching staff but indicative areas of theory are:

  • Resilience
  • Risk
  • Planetary boundaries
  • Social practice theory
  • Transition management
  • Socio-technical systems
  • Postcolonial theory
  • Consumption/production
  • Governmentality
  • Participation 

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 teaching10Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching10Seminars
Scheduled learning and teaching1Introduction to the module
Scheduled learning and teaching2Preparation for assessment tutorial
Scheduled learning and teaching2Individual presentations (formative)
Guided independent study125Reading and research for tutorials and assessment

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay Plan 1000 words1-9Peer-to-peer/ in-class feedback from lecturers

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
Reflective essay1004000 words1-9Written / oral on request

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Reflective essayReflective essay1-9Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to redo the relevant assessment. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Specific readings will be provided for the module consistent with the taught areas of theory for that year but in general you will be expected to read original theory articles or book chapters. A couple of examples are given below but these may not be included in the year’s syllabus. You can contact the module lead in the Autumn semester for details of the theory that will be covered in the upcoming year.

  • Beck, U., 1992. From Industrial Society to the Risk Society: Questions of Survival, Social Structure, and Ecological Enlightenment, Theory Culture and Society 9: 97-123
  • Rockstrom, J., 2009. Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity, Ecology and Society 14(2): 32 [online]
  • Shove, E., 2010. Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change, Environment and Planning A, 42(6): 1273 -1285

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE page

Key words search

Environmental sustainability, theory, practice, policy

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date