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Ecology and Culture: Global Diversity and Inequality

Course Code: ANTH 2230
Faculty: Humanities & Social Sciences
Department: Anthropology
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

How do people in different cultural and ecological contexts understand the human place in nature? How is socioeconomic inequality created by and expressed in uneven geographical development, degradation of environments and control over natural resources? How do cultural anthropologists attempt to mitigate and critique of impacts of global capitalist resource exploitation upon indigenous peoples? How do global biodiversity conservation goals affect local populations that depend upon the resources of conservation areas? How is environmental change conceptualized and confronted within cultural frameworks of understanding and practice in everyday life? How do non-human others enter into and influence cultural knowledge, practices and behaviours? This course focuses upon the intertwined efforts to understand ecological and cultural diversity and sustainability from the ground up. Anchored in the interdisciplinary field of political ecology with special emphasis the development of political ecological thought within anthropology we will highlight how cultural and socioeconomic difference become expressed in and through resource conflicts. We will examine some of the ideological assumptions embedded in popular media and policy models of sustainable development and how particular local ecological and cultural histories of praxis influence the interpretation of these ideas and models in diverse contexts.

Course Content

Possible course themes and sub-topics include the following that will be explored through selections from a variety of theoretical and ethnographic works as well as online podcasts and lectures:

A.    Introduction and Overview of the Course/Re-Orientations to Culture and Nature

What is nature? Is it a material, physical object? Is it a social, cultural and historical construction?  How do our ideas of what nature is affect what we do with it and to it? What historical context is necessary to understand contemporary environmentalism?

B.    Commons

How do we situate local ecological and cultural concerns on the collective planet? The idea of the commons as discussed by Garrett Hardin, Elinor Ostrom, Michael Hardt and David Harvey (among others) will be discussed with reference to such challenges as population growth; ecological limits to capitalist expansion.

 C.    Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill

What are modes of production?  What contributes to continuity and change of modes of production in response to colonial and imperial force?

 D.    From Cultural to Political Ecology

How did cultural and political ecology develop in anthropology alongside other disciplines (especially geography and political science)? What are some of the methods used by anthropologists to understand local and traditional ecological knowledge?

E.    Indigenous Life Projects

What are some of the potential pitfalls of environmentalist ideals for indigenous peoples?  How are environmentalism and indigenous struggles interrelated?

 F.    Anthropologies of Energy: The Metabolism of the Anthropocene

 What are the impacts of oil dependence for populations where oil is extracted?  What is the “resource curse”?  What challenges and opportunities are present for the development of green energy?

 G.    Conservation and the Politics of Eco-Scarcity

 What are the politics of international biodiversity conservation efforts? What are some of the unintended consequences of international conservation goals for local populations?

 H.    Anthropologies of the More Than Human/Non Human

 How do anthropologists attempt to include cultural differences regarding the rights or role of non-humans in collective social life?  What is anthropocentrism and what insights can be gained by de-centring humans in research about culture and ecology?

 I.      Disaster and Waste

 How do people cope with toxic environments?  Why are people unequally exposed to risk?  Who is responsible for externalities of industrial production? 

 J.     Environmental Racisms and Privileges

 How are socioeconomic, raced and gendered inequalities revealed in access or lack of access to clean water, land, and air?  What methods are used to discover the dynamics of these inequalities? 

Methods of Instruction

Lectures, group presentations, collective examination of case studies and facilitated discussion of readings will be the primary means of instruction. Some content from the internet will form an integral part of the curriculum.  Utilizing online resources such as the “Engagement Blog” of the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association that features accessible short articles on contemporary fieldwork in environmental anthropology, and online lectures and podcasts featuring prominent authors in the field students will have a chance to engage with the relevance of Environmental Anthropology “on the ground.”  Case studies from these sources will be presented by student groups and discussed in class to enhance student understanding.  One local community engagement that applies concepts learned in the course to the examination of a case from British Columbia will be chosen per term.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. Evaluation will be based on course objectives and will include some of the following: quizzes, multiple choice exams, essay type exams, term paper or research project, computer based assignments, etc. The instructor will provide the students with a course outline listing the criteria for course evaluation. 

An example of a possible evaluation scheme:

10% Participation Including group work, oral presentations and contributions to class discussion.

10% Paper Proposal and Preliminary Bibliography

25% Final Research Paper

10% Community Engagement Reflection Paper

20% Midterm Exam

25% Final Exam

Learning Outcomes

As a result of taking this course students should be able to:

  • Define a commons and major theoretical approaches to confronting the challenges of resource access and exclusion from access.
  • Discuss cultural ecology as a theoretical framework in anthropology and some major critiques of it.
  • Recognize essentialist and reductive representations of indigenous peoples as natural environmental stewards in mainstream environmentalist campaigns.
  • Assess major distinctions between indigenous life projects and assimilation-oriented policies through the examination of case studies.
  •  Formulate a more complex understanding of how cultural, ecological and economic changes are interrelated.
  • Restate major theses in political ecology and apply one to the analysis of contemporary case studies.

course prerequisites

One of ANTH 1100, 1111, 1112 or permission of the instructor.

curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.