Geography 330: Culture & Environment

Course Description

This course is designed to introduce key concepts, themes and critical debates around the relationship between culture and the environment. To that end, the course is divided into four complementary sections.

In Section I: Nature-Culture Relationships, we explore key themes, concepts and debates around what we call “nature” and “culture.” We begin by unpacking what we actually mean by these terms and how our interpretations influence human-environment relations. Drawing extensively from perspectives in political ecology we work to understand what it means to “de-naturalize” nature. The primary theme of this section is how humans interact with their environments in political and often contested ways to create culturally mediated landscapes.

In Section II: Political Economy of the Environment, we address complex issues such as how global capital contributes to both environmental degradation and conservation, as well as how the drive towards capitalist expansion can mediate environmental practices, ideologies and relationships. Through our reading of Tania Li’s Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier we will examine key issues around capitalism, culture and the environment. We pay particular attention to how nature-culture relationships are mediated by cultural-economic politics. Through this historically and ethnographically grounded account of indigenous livelihoods in Indonesia, we consider the politics of environmentalism and development at the local, national and global scale.

We then transition to Section III: Cultural Politics and the Environment. In this section we consider how culture is always already political, and we examine the implications of this ideological position for environmental practice. Continuing our focus on perspectives from political ecology, we consider struggles over resources such as water, dirt, and trees in contemporary society. To enhance our ongoing examination of the relationship between culture and the environment, we will participate in a one day Mālama I Na Ahupua‘a Service Learning Project at the Halawa Valley Heiau.

In Section IV: Socio-Environmental Movements we consider environmental practices as multi-scalar phenomena; local, national, regional and transnational perspectives are examined. Sometimes disparate, these perspectives converge and diverge in complicated ways that present both challenges and opportunities for transnational socio-environmental movements. We examine how and why these movements emerge. Sometimes a reaction against unbridled and poorly managed economic development, these movements can reveal the complex relationship between culture, capital and the environment. Additionally, we consider how these movements can be co-opted by the market (e.g. through “green” and “alternative” consumption) and the implications of this co-option for people as well as culture and the environment.

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