Environmental Controversies

Course Environmental Controversies (SS 19)
Instructor Dr.Sabine Sane, Dr. Nicholas Buchanan

sabine.sane[at]ucf.uni-freiburg.de, nicholas.buchanan[at]ucf.uni-freiburg.de

Prerequisites none
Corresponding Module Research Design across Disciplines for left-over places only: Specialization Option: EES I or II, Elective module (Joker)
How safe, or unsafe, is nuclear power; and who gets to define “safe,” and by what metric? Who is responsible for the changing climate? Is this animal species endangered; and if so, should we do something about it? Is that thing they’re calling food actually food? These are but a few of the questions at the center of ongoing environmental controversies that affect the lives of everyone on earth, whether directly or indirectly. Such controversies are moments in which people disagree about the environmental past, present, and future; about what the relationship between the environment and human societies should or should not be; about how best to produce and communicate environmental knowledge; about who has the authority to govern the environment and the people in it; and about what action, if any, to take. In these and other senses, environmental controversies are tremendously rich sites for interdisciplinary scholarly inquiry.

In this course, which is open to students in all LAS majors, we will explore such controversies from social-and natural-scientific perspectives, while also systematically developing research skills relevant to better understanding, and perhaps acting upon, environmental controversies. Informed by scholarship in the field of science and technology studies, the course will focus on tracing the social, cultural, and technical dynamics of the intense scientific disagreements at the heart of many environmental conflicts. Through theoretical and empirical readings, we will explore how the authority of science, the meaning of expert disagreement, and the fate of plural ways of knowing and valuing the environment (e.g., indigenous and local knowledge) are called into question. We will also focus on the interactions of diverse actors, both state and non-state, traditional and unexpected, involved in environmental controversies. We will investigate how environmental decision-making is becoming increasingly participatory, complicating the boundaries between scientists and the public, as well as between regulators and the regulated. The course will consist of both seminar-style discussions of readings as well as workshops dedicated to honing research methods. Students will design and carry out small research projects focused on an environmental controversy, the results of which they will present in a class conference at the end of the term. Skills will include: framing a research topic; situating the question within a scholarly debate and literature; gathering and analyzing data (including qualitative and/or quantitative); developing an argument; and creating a successful academic presentation.

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