BA Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Nature, Society and Social Power

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG21242
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
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.


The unit aims :

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 examp

Teaching and learning methods

The course is delivered through a range of lectures, seminars, and student reading. Each week will comprise of 2 hr lectures and 1 hr seminar. All teaching material will be available on Blackboard. Both lectures and seminars will be on-line and available as pod-casts after the lectures/events for those who could not attend the live lecture/seminar.

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


One Open-Book Examination with essay-style questions (to be chosen from a total of 6 question). Students will have one week to complete the examination. Maximum length of each answer is 1500 words




Maximum of 1500 words for each question


Written feedback offered within two weeks after submission of the exam through Blackboard




Students prepare a Course Essay on a theme to be chosen from a list of titles that will be made available at the beginning of the Semester. The title will relate to the course material and permit students to explore specific themes either more theoretically or by means of exploring a specific case study (50%).






2500 Words (excluding bibliography)


Oral feedback or written feedback over email (voluntary) is provided on outline proposal.


Written feedback is offered within two weeks after submission of the course work




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.

rnstson 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 Antipode

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”

• ENTITLE website, See especially: Introduction to political ecology by Professor Maria Kaika,

• 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
Erik Swyngedouw Unit coordinator
Mark Usher Unit coordinator

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