Social and Political Nature

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSHE3ED1054

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon/Winter Semester, as required

Course Team: Prof. Asmita Kabra, Dr Oinam Hemlata Devi

Pre-requisites: None

Course Objectives/Description:

As environmentalism has gained momentum in the last four decades, the idea of nature as an apolitical entity has come into question. It is in this context that the field or perspective of social and political ecology has made its presence felt across the disciplines. The course builds on the understanding that nature and society are intricately linked, and therefore environmental issues are simultaneously technical, social and political. This course will build the conceptual-theoretical base for a political ecological perspective on concerns around nature/society and analyse politics and movements related to the knowledge, control and governance of nature. The course will cover the following broad topics:

  • Colonialism, Capitalism and Nature
  • Political Ecology as critique
  • Environmental conflicts and movements
  • Science and Technology Studies

Course Outcomes:

At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Read, comprehend and analyse complex interdisciplinary texts pertaining to the framing of socio-environmental questions.
  2. Learn about the diversity of values and beliefs about the relationship of humans and the environment in different cultural contexts.
  3. Understand the linkages between local, regional and global framing of environmental discourses and narratives.
  4. Understand the role of power and politics in the framing of environmental ‘problems’ and their ‘solutions’.
  5. Communicate the conceptual and theoretical frameworks effectively through written, and media materials, critical and self-reflection based assignments, and classroom/tutorial discussions.
  6. Analyze critically the role of the state, the market and various non-state actors in popularizing various narratives of environmental problems and their perceived solutions.
  7. Disaggregate the epistemological underpinnings of diverse environmental solutions through discourse analysis of real-world case studies.
  8. Develop intellectual curiosity to continue lifelong learning about emerging issues and concerns of ecological sustainability and social justice.

Brief description of Main modules:

Part I: Colonialism, Capitalism and Nature

This section will expose students to the origins of the interdisciplinary area of enquiry referred to as political ecology. It will discuss various theories of the state in order to help students to foreground the role of power and politics in the way important socio-ecological concerns and their solutions are framed. It will then introduce students to the structural underpinnings of modern environmental crises and their linkages with capitalist and neoliberal ideas of development and economic growth.

Part II: Political Ecology as Critique

In this section, classroom discussion and independent work will focus on the idea of nature as socially constructed and hybrid, as opposed to pristine and untouched by humans. They will be exposed to the diverse layers of politics in the framing of environmental questions, and will learn to interrogate diverse environmental narratives like biodiversity loss, deforestation and environmental degradation. Students will be taught to critique simplistic technocratic, ahistoric and asocial understandings of nature. They will learn to recognize that the environment has long been abstracted from society (and society from the environment) with serious consequences. The section will end with a critique of a strictly local understanding of human-environment interactions, by underscoring the importance of multi-scalar interactions between society and the environment.

Part III: Environmental Conflicts and Movements

This section will train students to understand theoretically the ideas of environmental justice and social movements, tracing the development of key theories in these fields from the perspectives of human rights, political economy and critical agrarian studies. Scholars will learn to unpack the idea of ‘community’ to understand how local responses to environmental crises and resource dispossession might be varied and diverse.

Part IV: Science and Technology Studies

This section will be devoted to a deeper understanding of the technologies through which nature is constantly given shape, and will introduce students to literature in science-technology studies and to newer applications of political ecology to the study of urban ecosystems and non-human actors.

Assessment details with weightage:

Sl. No.




Term Paper 1



Term Paper 2



Memo writing (2)



Key Readings:

Part I:

  • Comaroff, John and Jean Comaroff (2000). ‘Nurturing the Nation: Aliens, Apocalypse, and the Postcolonial State’, HAGAR: International Social Science Review, 1 (1): 7–40.
  • Dubash, Navroz K. 2001. "Overheard at a bar at the Earth Summit ...". In Academic Communities/Disciplinary Conventions, edited by B. Beedles and M. Petracca. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  • Guha, Ramachandra, and Juan Martinez-Alier. 1997. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South: Earthscan.
  • Guha, Ramachandra. 2000. Environmentalism: A Global History, Chapters 5 and 6, pp. 69-124 New York: Longman.
  • Gupta, Akhil. 1998. Chapter 5: Peasants and Global Environmentalism: A New Form of Governmentality? In Postcolonial Developments, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Kaika, M (2006). ‘Dams as Symbols of Modernization: The Urbanization of Nature Between Geographical Imagination and Materiality’, Annals, Association of American Geographers 96(2): 276-301.
  • M. Goldman ‘Constructing an Environmental State: Eco-governmentality and other transnational practices of a ‘Green’ World Bank’
  • Schmidheiny, S. (1992). Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. pp. xi to xiii and 1-12.
  • Sivaramakrishnan, K (2011), ‘Thin nationalism: Nature and public intellectualism in India’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 45(1): 85-111.

Part II:

  • Benedick, R (1998), Ozone diplomacy: new directions in safeguarding the planet. Harvard University Press.
  • Bryant, Raymond L., and Sinead Bailey. 1997. Third World Political Ecology, Chapter 2. London: Routledge.
  • Haripriya Rangan, “From Chipko to Uttaranchal,” in Richard Peet and Michael Watts (eds.) 2004. Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development, Social Movements. London: Routledge. pp. 371-393.
  • Luke, Timothy W. 1995. Sustainable Development as a Power/Knowledge System: The Problem of 'Governmentality'. In Greening Environmental Policy: The Politics of a Sustainable Future, edited by F. Fischer and M. Black. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Paul Robbins, Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction, Blackwell, Ch 1.
  • Richard Peet and Michael Watts (eds.) 2004. Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development, Social Movements. London: Routledge, Ch 1, pp. 3-29.
  • Shearman, D and Smith, JW (2007), The climate change challenge and the failure of democracy. Greenwood Press: Westport, USA.

Part III:

  • Agrawal, Arun, (2005), Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects. (New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century.), Duke University Press, [Chap 6]
  • Baviskar, Amita (2006), ‘Red in Tooth and Claw? Looking for Class in Struggles over Nature’ in Raka Ray & Mary F. Katzenstein (eds.), Social Movements in India: Poverty, Power and Politics, OUP, 2006.
  • Castree, N. "A post-environmental ethics?" Ethics, Place and Environment 6(1)(2003) : 3 - 12.
  • David Schlosberg, Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature, OUP, 2007 (Chap 1, 2, 3)
  • Giovanna DiChiro, ‘Nature as Community: The Convergence of Environment and Social Justice’ in Michael Goldman, Privatizing Nature: Political Struggles for the Global Commons
  • Rangan, Haripriya, Of Myths and Movements: Rewriting Chipko into Himalayan History, 2001
  • Sanjeev Khagram, 2004. Dams and Development: Transnational Struggles for Water and Power. Cornell: Cornell University Press.

Part IV:

  • A. Petryna (2010), When Experiments Travel: Clinical Trials and the Global Search for Human Subjects. University of Princeton Press.
  • Collins, H and Evans, R (2007), Rethinking Expertise. University of Chicago Press. Ch 1.
  • Grove, K. (2010), ‘Insuring “Our Common Future?” Dangerous Climate Change and the Biopolitics of Environmental Security’, Geopolitics, Vol. 15, Iss. 3, 2010.
  • Grove, R. (1989), ‘Scottish Missionaries, Evangelical Discourses and the Origins of Conservation Thinking in Southern Africa 1820-1900’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 15(2): 163-87.
  • Grove, R. (1993), ‘Conserving Eden: The (European) East India Companies and Their Environmental Policies on St.Helena, Mauritius and in Western India, 1660 to 1854’, Comparative Studies in Society and History ,35(2): 318-351.
  • Kaushik S. Rajan (2006), Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life.
  • Killingsworth, MJ and Palmer, JS (1996), ‘Milliennial Ecology: the apocalyptic narrative from Silent Spring to global warming. In Herndl, CG and Brown, SC (eds), Green Culture: environmental rhetoric in contemporary America. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison WI, pp 21-45.
  • Kim Fortun (2001), Advocacy after Bhopal: Environmentalism, Disaster, and New Global Orders. University of Chicago Press.
  • N. Brooks, Vulnerability, Risk and Adaptation: A Conceptual Framework.