21A.342 | Fall 2004 | Undergraduate

Environmental Struggles


First Essay Question

3-5 pages

Please answer one of the following two questions.

  1. In this class, we have used the book Nature’s Economy by Donald Worster to discuss the ideas of European and American thinkers such as Linneaus, Thoreau and Darwin. Compare and contrast the ideas about nature offered by these scholars/intellectuals locating them in their broader social and historical context. You might want to explore such questions as: How did these thinkers conceptualize nature? In their views, what was the position of humans in relation to nature/other living creatures? What were the relationships of both humans and nature to God? To science? What changes were occurring in their broader social worlds that encouraged them to think in these terms and what influence, in turn, did their ideas have upon others?

  2. In his book, Changes in the Land, William Cronon has explored the very different conceptions of, and uses of, the land/living creatures between Native Americans and English settlers in early New England. Explore these differences. How and why did these groups utilize their natural environments in such different ways? More specifically, how did they conceptualize and make use of land? Of animals? How did they conceive of property and what implications did this have? As settlers became increasingly dominant in New England, what effect did the transformations that settlers brought with them have upon both Native Americans and upon the ecology of New England?

Make sure your essays have clear thesis statements and specific examples to illustrate your points.

Second Essay Question

5-7 pages

Garett Hardin in his influential 1968 article “The Tragedy of the Commons” theorized that a “commons” approach to natural resources inevitably leads to environmental degradation since it is in the best interest of individuals to overexploit such resources in pursuing their own advantage. Although Hardin focuses on individual actors and upon the possible action of states, he fails to explore societally-based ideas and practices that also affect “communal” natural resource use. Based on the readings from this class (you may utilize, for example, Cronon, Agrawal, Walley and Hecht and Cockburn) consider such social dynamics. What are the range of ideas about communal resources found in the readings? How do such ideas compare with ideas of private property commonly found in “capitalist” societies? How do ideas and practices of “ownership” over natural resources affect the degree of social stratification or hierarchy found within particular societies? In other words, who benefits or loses from various systems of natural resource use and ownership? According to the readings, how have such dynamics shifted over time within particular societies? What are the environmental implications of these differing conceptions of use and “ownership”? Based on the readings, do you agree or disagree with Hardin’s assessment? Why or why not?

Final Essay Question

Write two essays of 4-5 pages each in length.

Answer two of the following three choices.

  1. Environmental struggles can also emerge over forms of science and technology created by humans. Consider the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, described by Adriana Petryna in Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl, in such terms. According to Petryna, what was the impact of this nuclear accident on residents of the Ukraine? Consider questions such as the following: How were the identities of residents re-worked in subsequent years? What kinds of state policies were created to address the impact of the accident? What was the motivation for such policies and their impact? What role did science play in arbitrating the effects of the accident? What were the larger socioeconomic and political factors at work and what impact did these forces have upon how Ukranian residents interpreted the accident? What does the term biological citizenship mean for Petryna?

  2. The topic of environmentalism is both a source of scholarly interest and a cause of political advocacy. Although most of the books for this class have been academic in orientation, some of the materials have taken more activist positions that explicitly seek to generate social and environmental change. Consider the role of advocacy in work about the environment through a discussion of Living Downstream and Blue Vinyl. In these accounts, what kinds of arguments did you find most or least persuasive regarding the linkages between toxic pollutants and health? Give detailed examples. In general, what kinds of arguments do you find persuasive in work about the environment? If you were planning to write a book or make a film intended to create environmental change, what kinds of strategies would you use to motivate others? What would you consider most important in creating such an account - scientific information, an engaging narrative, accessibility, particular kinds of data or something else? Why? (You may mention other materials for the class here if you find it relevant.)

  3. Choose an environmental struggle of your own to analyze. Consider what the environmental conflict is about. Where does the struggle take place? Who are the various parties involved? What is at stake for each of these groups? What is at stake in environmental terms? Make sure that you have lots of specifics and reference at least two of the readings from over the course of the class as a way to help you theoretically approach this material.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2004