Ecology and Equity (Gen Ed 1108)





What is the relationship between ecological change and social inequality?


Histories, Societies, Individuals icon with text

Ajantha Subramanian

What is the relationship between ecology and equity? How does environmental degradation relate to social inequality? What is environmental justice and what is its challenge to conservationism?

In this course, we will consider the intimate connection between social inequality and ecological change, and the possibilities for a future of greater equality and sustainability. We will do so by probing the ecological dimensions of political phenomena such as colonialism, property relations, and indigenous rights, and the political dimensions of ecological phenomena such as conservationism and climate change. In the process, we will grapple with how competing conceptions of the nonhuman world – as a source of life and livelihood, as a resource for exploitation, and as a heritage to be protected, to name a few –have informed the to-and-fro between widening and narrowing socioeconomic disparities.

The course material ranges broadly from social scientific work on environmental and social change in various contexts, to philosophical essays on human-nature relations, and films, journalistic essays and political manifestos by environmental social movements and organizations. You are expected to read closely and comparatively in order to understand different arguments about the relationship between ecology and equity. The course welcomes a diversity of viewpoints, and you are encouraged to share your perspectives in both lecture and section, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the assigned material. Together, we will work to sustain a classroom environment of openness and mutual respect.

The ultimate goal of the course is to equip you to be engaged citizens who do not just interpret but change the world. Towards this end, you will be hearing guest lectures from public intellectuals and activists throughout the semester. The final section of the course includes a Toxic Tour in Roxbury organized by the environmental justice organization, Alternatives for Community and Environment, and a required essay in which you are asked to write an op-ed on a contemporary environmental issue that offers a critical assessment of how the issue has been framed and how you think it ought to be addressed.

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