Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1SC8164

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Preeti Sampat

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: NA

Course Description:

This course is designed to introduce students to debates around 'nature' from a sociological perspective. Assumed dichotomies between nature and society, or human and non-human nature are troubled with readings and discussions that highlight the social construction of these binaries. As human and non-human nature is increasingly subjected to market imperatives in the pursuit of capitalist profits, it is exploited, depleted and dispossessed to the point of crisis in what is now debated as the Anthropocene. How does capital discipline human and non-human nature in the name of efficiency? What are the alternatives and collective mobilizations that counter such expropriatory processes? What may a democratic politics of justice for more-than-human nature encompass?

course aims to enhance students' innate capacity for critical thinking and reflection in the study of ‘nature.’ Throughout the course, there will be a lot of emphasis on reading, critical thinking, class participation and presentations. Students will be expected to read attentively, ask questions related to the readings and engage with course materials in class discussions. This will deepen respect for everyone's views and intellectual inputs (no matter how different) with a measure of self-reflexivity and intellectual curiosity. The fieldtrip will further enhance the comprehension of connections between complex theory and empirical reality.

Assignments and Grading:

  1. The course requires four assignments that are aimed at developing student reading, writing, critical thinking and presentation skills.
  2. For each class, two students will lead the discussion with one short presentation of the readings assigned for the class and submit a two-page summary. The schedule for presentations will be finalized at the start of the semester and the presentation and summary will be worth 10% of the overall grade.
  3. There will be one mid-semester exam based on thoughtful engagements with course readings and will cover 40% of the overall grade.
  4. There will be a field assessment based on the class fieldtrip worth 20% of the overall grade.
  5. There will be an end of the term final take-home essay assignment of six pages worth 20% of the overall grade requiring critical analysis of an issue emerging from the course, and a presentation based on the paper worth 10% of the overall grade. The assignment topics will be finalized during classes.

Overall grade break-up:

  1. One class presentation 10%
  2. Mid-semester exam 40%
  3. Field assessment 20%
  4. Final term paper and presentation 30%
  5. Total 100%

Absences and Late Assignments:

Attendance for each class and tutorial will be marked. The class attendance policy is strict, with grade points deducted for inadequate attendance. If for any pressing reason such as illness a student is unable to attend a class, or turn in an assignment on the due date, the student must consult the instructor beforehand for permission to do so.

Academic Integrity:

Students must be careful in observing all instructions carefully and any form of academic misconduct, such as cheating and plagiarism is unacceptable. Such misconduct undermines student learning and integrity, as well as the integrity of the classroom and the University as an institution. Learning how to cite appropriately is crucial to writing well. There will be detailed discussions on citation practices during tutorials. For any further clarifications and questions regarding citation practices, students must consult the instructor before turning in take-home assignments. All assignments will be checked for plagiarism with tracking software.

Module 1: Nature, Culture and Perception

Nature is commonly assumed as external to human society. Implicit in this binary is the division between human and non-human nature. This module introduces and troubles commonly assumed binaries between 'nature' and 'society' and focuses on their relationality. Starting with Sherry Ortner's use of simile between nature/ female and culture/ male; we will cover recent concerns from environmental sociology and anthropology that reference 'the inseparability of nature and society,' and forward theses for an 'ecology of life.'

  • Ortner, S. 1974. 'Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?' In M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere (eds.). Woman, culture and society. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Mukerjee, R. 1994. 'An Ecological Approach to Sociology.' In Guha, R. (Ed.) Social Ecology. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Goldman, M. and R. Schurman. 2000. 'Closing the “Great Divide”: New Social Theory on Society and Nature.' Annual Review of Sociology.
  • Ingold, T. 2000. 'Culture, nature, environment.' In The perception of the environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.
  • (Suggested: Elwin, V. 1994. 'Civilising the Savage.' In Guha, R. (Ed.) Social Ecology. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 249-74.
  • Ingold, T. 2011. 'Anthropology comes to life.' In Being Alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description. London: Routledge.)

Module 2: Science, Technology and Discipline

Social perspectives on (human and non-human) nature have influenced scientific knowledge and studies profoundly. How does science construct nature and what does this tell us in turn about the social construction of science? This module introduces science and technology studies and interrogates the scientific analysis of nature, including powerful disciplinary apparatuses deployed to discipline the human body.

  • Sismondo, S. 2010. 'The Social Construction of Scientific and Technical Realities.' In An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies. Malden: Blackwell.
  • Gould, S. 1996. 'Epilogue' and 'Critique of the Bell Curve.' In The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Haraway, D. 1999 [1988]. 'Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.' In Biagioli, Mario (Ed.). The Science Studies Reader. New York: Routledge.
  • Davidson, A. 1999 [1998 abridged]. 'Styles of History, Conceptual Reasoning and the Emergence of Psychiatry.' In Biagioli, M. (Ed.). The Science Studies Reader. New York: Routledge.
  • (Suggested: Foucault, Michel. 1991. 'Docile Bodies.' In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Modern Prison. New Delhi: Penguin Books. (pp. 135-156)

Module 3: Capital, Value and Nature

disciplining of nature has complemented the development of capitalism. The industrial revolution not only revolutionized production and the exploitation of 'resources' to serve markets and profits, but also created a regime of 'value.' How does capitalism value nature? This module discusses the harnessing of nature for capitalist markets and its social and environmental implications.

  • Mintz, S. 1985. 'Production.' In Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Gadgil M. and R. Guha. 2000. 'Forests and Industrialization: Four Stages.' In The Use and Abuse of Nature. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Balagopal, K. 2011.‘A Year of Drought?’ In Ear to the Ground: Selected Writings on Class and Caste. New Delhi: Navayana.
  • Scott, J. 1998. 'Nature and Space.' In Seeing Like a State: How Certain Conditions to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Module 4: Examining Nature and Society Fieldtrip (TBD)
  • This module will animate the foregoing discussions on nature, technology and capital through a fieldtrip of 2.5 days. Additional reading materials will be added in consultation with field-based faculty closer to the trip.
  • Jalais, A. 2008. 'Unmasking the Cosmopolitan Tiger.' Nature and Culture. 3(1): 25-40.
  • (Suggested: Marx, K. 1990. 'Primitive Accumulation' and 'The Capitalist Farmer.' Capital Volume 1. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Mitchell, T. 2001. 'Can the Mosquito Speak?' In Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Module 5: Justice for the Anthropocene

As the profound impact of human interventions reveals itself in environmental crises and climate change, scientists debate that we have passed from the Holocene epoch of the past 10,000 years to the Anthropocene—humans have now become the single most powerful species with planetary force. What are the concerns of contemporary climate or environmental justice movements and how do these resonate with concerns regarding social justice? Can we think of a democratic politics for the Anthropocene? This module brings together the learnings from the course by focusing on ways in which various actors have articulated social and environmental justice.

  • Faber, D. 2013. 'The Unfair Trade-off: Globalization and the Export of Ecological Hazards.' In King, L. and D. M. Auriffeille (Eds.). Environmental Sociology: From Analysis to Action. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Maniates, M. 2013. 'Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World?' In King, L. and D. M. Auriffeille (Eds.). Environmental Sociology: From Analysis to Action. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Hall, D., P. Hirsch and T. Li. 2011. 'Counter-exclusions: Collective Mobilizations for Land and Territory.' In Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
  • Purdy, J. 2015. 'Introduction' and 'What Kind of Democracy?' In After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Asafu-Adjaye et. al. 2015. An Eco-Modernist Manifesto. Available at: (last accessed 1/15/2017: 2 pm)