Syllabus - University of Colorado Boulder

Geography 3422: Conservation thought
M-W-F 11-11:50 HLMS 201
Instructor: Luke Ward
Office: Guggenheim 314
Office Hrs: M,F 9:30 - 10:30 & by
Phone: 303-492-3684
[email protected]
Teaching Assistant: Jessica Sherman
Office: Guggenheim 312
Office hrs: M 12-2
[email protected]
The purpose of this course is to introduce and critique different traditions in
environmental thinking. Conservation thought has evolved in response to an increased
awareness of the complexities of society-environment relations. At the root of these
society-environment relations is a tension between the notions of development and
progress on one hand and conservation of the environment on the other. Since ideas
about conservation generally revolve around preserving, protecting or enhancing certain
qualities of the natural and human environment in the face of development, it could be
argued that development, by threatening the “natural” state of various environments, is
what makes conservation of the environment desirable.
At the same time, cultural practices and social processes determine how we assign value
to human and natural environments, leading to differing views on how societal
development and conservation should be pursued. Underlying the tension between
development and conservation are various, frequently conflicting understandings of
concepts -- like resources, nature, and preservation?-- which play particularly important
roles in the way that humans perceive, value, and manage their environments.
To think and talk about conservation, then, one must also consider the way that the
notions of conservation, resources, development, nature, culture, and politics are
functions of social, cultural, and political processes that vary over time and among
different social groups. As a result, not everyone has the same understanding of
conservation. In fact, many of the conflicts that surround conservation and development
stem from one group’s set of ideas about nature or resources being forced on others. This
appears to be the case at international, national, or local scales.
This course will examine the relationships between social forces and the
development of conservation thought—who practices conservation, the various ways in
which conservation can be expressed, and why conservation is a controversial and
powerful concept in today’s social and political arenas.
Readings are divided into five sections that present the abstract ideas behind different
positions on a variety of conservation issues as well as provide grounded examples of
conservation policies, projects, and conflicts around the world.
Section one is intended to provide three basic frameworks from which environmental
thought has emerged. Critical analysis of these three contexts of conservation thought –
loss of nature in the face of human progress, cultural constructions of conservation and
development thinking, and ecological footprints of Northern economies – will supply a
number of key terms and concepts that will be used in section two, as we explore in more
depth fundamental arguments that underlie conservation thought and action in the U.S.,
Latin America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Section three introduces political ecology as a
theoretical framework for exploring the intersection of environmental thought and
philosophy on the one hand and environmental policy and resource management
decisions on the other. In section four we will use the political ecology ‘tool-kit’ to
critically explore recent trends in environmental governance. Finally, the readings in
section five present a brief overview of some of the more marginalized voices and
themes in environmental thought and at the same time offer an opportunity to explore the
roots of ‘radical’ environmental thinking and activism.
The readings for this course are intended to help students better understand key themes of
environmental thinking. More importantly, perhaps, the goal of the readings is to raise
questions about and inspire students to critically examine the ‘taken-for granted’
assumptions that many of us have regarding conservation and, more broadly, our
relationship to nature.
Keeping up with readings is essential to success in this class. All readings should be
completed before the class session indicated in the schedule of readings. Lectures will
supplement, not substitute for, the readings and will themselves be supplemented with
discussions, activities, guest speakers, and videos.
Required Books:
Abbey, E. (1976). The Monkey Wrench Gang. New York: Harper Collins.
Carson, R. (1962). Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Conoca, K., and Dabelko, G. (2004) Green Planet Blues: Environmental Politics from
Stockholm to Kyoto. (third edition). Boulder: Westview.
Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand Country Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press.
(I’ll be referring to the 1989 edition with Introduction by Robert Finch)
Lomborg, B (2001). The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the True State of the
World. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Robbins, P. (2004). Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.
Other required articles and book chapters will be placed on reserve at Norlin library or
will be made available through the library’s e-reserve system:
The schedule of readings, lectures, and exams should be thought of as a loose framework
for how this class will flow. The schedule, including reading assignments and paper
topics and due dates, is subject to change at any time. Changes to the schedule will be
announced in class and it is the student’s responsibility to be aware of these changes. In
other words, it’s important to attend class.
You final grade will be determined based on the following components:
10% participation
10% paper one
10% quizzes & in-class exercises
20% paper two
20% midterm
30% comprehensive final exam
All material covered in readings, lectures, discussions, videos, and other activities is fair
game for exams and quizzes.
Students who miss a quiz or test without a documented and acceptable excuse (e.g.
medical) will receive a score of zero for missed work. If you know of a valid conflict
with any of the scheduled tests or the final exam, contact the instructor in advance.
Written assignments are due at the beginning of class on the date indicated. For work
handed in late, five percent per day that the assignment is late will be subtracted from the
grade you are assigned on the assignment. For example, if an assignment is handed in 2
days late the grade on the assignment is automatically lowered 10%. After one week,
late assignments will not be accepted and students will receive a zero for the
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