This seminar is the first in a three course sequence that introduces first and second year graduate students to the multi-disciplinary theoretical bases of the environmental social science field. This field grew out of a desire among scholars and practitioners to work across disciplines on real world problems of people and the environment. From the start, research was conducted in naturalistic settings and often with an action orientation. Our program, which was founded in the late1960s, has been interdisciplinary in orientation since its inception. As those in other fields–in and outside of psychology–have come to see human-environmental issues in interdisciplinary ways, we recognize that what we do is more aptly called Environmental Social Science. The term is meant to embrace a field of study that addresses and seeks to understand the nature of the complex relationships between people and the physical environment. While no one department can cover the depth and breadth of the field, we try to provide students with a background that is broad enough to enable them to be comfortable as scholars and practitioners within this larger landscape. This means that you need to be able to navigate through substantive areas that may not be central to your own focus, and may at first blush even seem irrelevant to your interests.

The goal of this seminar is for each participant to begin to develop his or her own perspective on the nature of people-environment relationships in their larger social, economic, cultural, political, and historical context; to get a sense of the historical evolution of ideas in the field; and to begin to develop a research topic and related bibliography. Our reading encompasses historical and theoretical overviews of environmental psychology; material from a range of disciplines that came together to form the field and addressed the issues and concepts of Environmental Social Science although no ‘named’ field existed when they began to do so; and empirical studies in a variety of thematic areas of historic and current interest.

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This seminar will examine an eclectic range of theories concerning the social construction and lived experience of space and time from a range of disciplines. We will explore theories of the production of space, scale, place and the everyday, and the making (and unmaking) of biographical time, historical time, work time, memory, past and future. Our texts will be attentive to alternative temporalities and spatialities, and their representations in registers other than the social sciences including film and the visual arts. The work of Walter Benjamin, John Berger, Lauren Berlant, Susan Buck-Morss, Lee Edelman, Johannes Fabian, John Gillis, Judith Halberstam, David Harvey, Fredric Jameson, Stephen Kern, Henri Lefebvre, Tshibumba Kanda Matulu, Allan Pred, Kristin Ross, Charlotte Salomon, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Edward Soja, Michael Sorkin, Carolyn Steedman, E.P. Thompson, Anna Tsing, and Paul Willis among others will be addressed.

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This seminar will address cutting edge issues in the broad and burgeoning fields of gender and the environment, and sexuality and space. My goal is that seminar participants will develop critical perspectives on the relationships between the production of space and place and the expectations and enactments of ‘identity.’ We will look at how the built environment, space, and place work to construct and maintain particular normative notions of gender, sexuality, class, and race, and examine how these identifications produce, alter, and maintain particular spaces. Because I have selected readings that focus on important contemporary debates in the interdisciplinary field of environmental social science, I have, of necessity, eliminated many foundational and ‘classic’ works in the field. Many of these are referenced in the overviews that we will read in the first weeks of the seminar. I encourage you to look some of these up to complement your course readings.

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Political ecology and environmental justice are areas of intense contemporary debate, the former commonly associated with the global south and the latter with the north. Yet scholars and practitioners working in these fields share similar concerns with the uneven effects of production, social reproduction, distribution, privatization, social justice, and inequalities in harms and benefits. This seminar will critically examine the theories and practices of political ecology, environmental justice, and the production of nature across the disparate geographies of north and south, urban and rural, and at a number of scales focusing on issues such as environmental conservation, nature preservation, biodiversity, eco-tourism, industrial agriculture, and green capitalism. Using the events and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as case study, we will engage current debates over ‘sustainable development,’ environmental racism, the limits of environmental management, and what is ‘natural’ about natural disasters.

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