BA Geography

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Nature, Society & Social Power

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG31212
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Environment, Education and Development
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course examines the interrelationship between humans and nature, with a particular emphasis on the how social power relations produce and change socio-physical conditions. The course starts from the premise that nature and society are not separate, but intimately interwoven. They are mutually intertwined and co-evolving. The course will draw on a variety of critical theoretical perspectives (Marxist, post-Marxist, feminist, post-colonial) and illustrate the argument with a series of case studies. The course will consist of 10 two-hour lectures and 10 one-hour seminars, each adapted to online teaching as required. This includes using documentary film, presentations, and break-out group discussions.


  • To theorize how the social and physical world interact;
  • To understand critically the entanglements of social and physical conditions under capitalism through the framework of political ecology;
  • To provide a critical review of the socio-ecological dynamics of capitalism;
  • To offer insight into the processes through which particular environmental conditions come about and are changed;
  • To explore the key actors that shape environmental activities and their spatial configurations and outcomes;
  • To demonstrate how socio-environmental processes are also political processes;
  • To illustrate these processes by means of concrete historical-geographical examples


Learning outcomes



Knowledge and understanding

  • Critically assess a range of perspectives related to the question of nature, society and social power
  • Critically assess how nature and society are mutually constituted through a range of social power relations

Intellectual skills

  • Think critically about and reflect on questions of socio-ecological change
  • To assess the merits of contrasting theoretical explanations
  • To back-up theoretical arguments with empirical evidence, including the construction of theoretically informed explanations of real-life dynamics as uncovered in research literature and ongoing social dynamics

Practical skills

  • To translate theory into politics
  • To asses and formulate socio-ecological policies and practices

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Motivation and self-directed learning
  • Awareness of responsibility as a global citizen


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • extensive verbal feedback through Q&A, discussion and interactive activities within lectures;
  • verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours;
  • detailed written feedback on the coursework assignments;
  • verbal feedback on examinations provided in academic advisor meetings.


Recommended reading

Braun B., Castree N (Eds.) (1998) Remaking Reality. Routledge, London.

Bryant, R. (Ed.) (2015) The International Handbook of Political Ecology.  Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.

Ernstson H., and Swyngedouw E. (Eds.) (2019) Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene: Interruptions and Possibilities. London: Routledge.

Harvey, D. (1985). The Geo-Politics of Capitalism. In D. Gregory & J. Urry (Eds.), Social Relations and Spatial Structures (pp. 128-163). London: Macmillan.

Harvey D. (1981) Limits to Capital. Blackwell, Oxford

Harvey D. (1996). Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Oxford: Blackwell.

Heynen N., Kaika M., and Swyngedouw E. (2006) (Eds.) In the Nature of Cities – Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism. Routledge, London and New York

Perreault, T., Bridge G. and McCarthy J.  (Eds.) (2015) The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology. Routledge, London

Robins Paul (2011) Political Ecology – A Critical Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell.

Smith N. (1984). Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell.

Swyngedouw E (2000) “The Marxian Alternative – Historical Geographical Materialism and the Political Economy of Capitalism”, in Barnes T., Sheppard E. (Eds.)  Reader in Economic Geography, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 41-59.

Swyngedouw E. (2004) Flows of Power – Water and the Political Ecology of Urbanisation in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Oxford: University Press.

Swyngedouw E (2004) “Scaled Geographies. Nature, Place, and the Politics of Scale”, in McMaster R., Sheppard E. (Eds.) Scale and Geographic Inquiry: Nature, Society and Method. Blackwell Publishers, Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., pp. 129-153.

Swyngedouw E. (2010) “Trouble with Nature – Ecology as the New Opium for the People”, in Hillier, J. and P. Healey (Eds.) Conceptual Challenges for Planning Theory. Ashgate, Farnham, pp. 299-320.

Swyngedouw E. (2012) (with Ian Cook) “Cities, social cohesion and the environment: towards a future research agenda”, Urban Studies 49(9), pp. 1938 - 1958

Swyngedouw E. (2015) Liquid Power: Contested Hydro-Modernities in 20th Century Spain. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Swyngedouw E. (2015) “Depoliticized Environments and the Promises of the Anthropocene”, in Bryant R. (ed.) International Handbook of Political Ecology. E. Elgar, London, pp. 131-145.

Wittfogel K. (1957) Oriental Despotism. Yale University Press/Oxford University Press

Key Journals


Environment and Planning A

Environment and Planning E

Capitalism, Nature, Socialism

Annals of the American Association of Geographers

Transactions of the IBG


Ecological Economics

Singapore Tropical Journal of Geography

Other Resources

  • NETFLIX Documentary series: ROTTEN, including the episode on “The Avocado War”

Situated UPE website, See for instance the Video resources focusing on political ecologies of global South cities,

EJOLT on environmental justice and their Environmental Justice Atlas, EJAtlas, ,


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Henrik Ernstson Unit coordinator
Erik Swyngedouw Unit coordinator

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