MA International Relations (Standard)

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Critical Environmental Politics

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI70921
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module will introduce you to the study of critical environmental politics in the contemporary world. It covers some of the most important environmental challenges facing societies, including climate emergency, biodiversity loss, unsustainable resource use, socio-environmental injustices, and food and water insecurity. It is called ‘critical’ environmental politics because it engages with a specific set of theoretical traditions within the humanities and social sciences that question dominant ideologies and power structures. The course is therefore not a general introduction to the politics of the environment but instead explores some of the concepts and frameworks that critical scholars have used to question, deconstruct and challenge mainstream interpretations of environmental issues, including biopolitics, environmentality, environmental justice, ecofeminism, eco-marxism, decoloniality, eco-imperialism, queer ecology, and more. The central challenges of the module will include: i)exploring relationships (of power, conflict and cooperation) within human societies and between humans, other species and environments (or ‘nature’) in contemporary politics and ii) debating the roles of diverse individuals, communities, movements, NGOs, elites, corporations, states and institutions in causing and/or responding to local and global environmental crises.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to demonstrate:

1.   Understanding of approaches to the study of environmental politics within critical theory traditions;

2.   Familiarity with a range of cases of environmental issues, ability to apply critical theoretical approaches to those cases; and

3.  Understanding of the different drivers and responses to socio-environmental crises around the world. 

Teaching and learning methods


The course will be taught on the basis of ten two-hour seminars. Seminars will be structured around student activities, involving group discussions of the set-reading. Students will be required to lead small group discussion on particular topics. The classes will also include some structured delivery of content by the tutors.


The Blackboard site for the course will contain relevant links to further sources and websites. Seminar material will also be posted on the site. Video and online resources will be used in some classes as a basis for discussion and analysis.

Assessment methods

1,000 word book review (25%),

500 word handout (15%),

2,000 word essay (60%)

Recommended reading

Preliminary reading:The course has been designed with the following text in mind:

  • Carl Death (ed.) (2014)Critical Environmental Politics(Routledge).

Supplementary texts include:

  • Arun Agrawal (2005)Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects (Duke University Press).
  • havnani, Kum-Kum, John Foran, Priya A. Kurian, Debashish Munshi (eds) (2019) Climate Futures:
  • Re-imagining Global Climate Justice (Zed Books).
  • Brockington, Dan, Rosaleen Duffy Jim Igoe (2008) Nature Unbound (Earthscan)
  • Sanjay Chaturvedi and Tim Doyle (2015) Climate Terror: A Critical Geopolitics of Climate Change (Palgrave).
  • Nicole Detraz (2017) Gender and the Environment (Polity Press)
  • John Dryzek, Richard Norgaard; David Schlosberg (2013). Climate-Challenged Society. (OUP).
  • Giorgos Kallis et al (2020) The Case for Degrowth (Polity).
  • Gabriela Kütting; Ronnie Lipschutz (2009) (eds) Environmental Governance: Power and Knowledge in a Local-Global World;(Routledge).
  • Amitav Ghosh (2016) The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (University of Chicago Press).
  • Sherilyn MacGregor (ed) The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment (Routledge).
  • Joan Martinez-Alier (2002) The Environmentalism of the Poor: A study of ecological conflicts and valuation (Edward Elgar).
  • Jason Moore (2016) Anthropocene or Capitalocene?: Nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism (PM Press).
  • Peter Newell (2012);Globalization and the Environment: Capitalism, Ecology and Power;(Polity).
  • Hayley Stevenson (2017) Global Environmental Politics: Problems, Policy and Practice. (Cambridge University Press).
  • Xie Lei (2009) Environmental activism in China (Routledge).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Robert Watt Unit coordinator

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