UCL Department of Geography
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Convenor: Dr. Richard Taylor
Term: One
0.5 unit

Course Description

Many approaches can be taken to the study of human ecology – economic, environmental, cultural – but, in this introductory Geography course, we place special emphasis on the changing relations over time and in space between society and environment, and focus course material around population and resources. The relations between society and environment constitute an immensely topical area of study as national governments, global organisations and local communities struggle to ensure that we live within the environmental capacities of the planet. Within our principal focus of people and resources, we use the supply of and demand of water, food and land as touchstones to develop the themes of resource sustainability and accessibility, and population vulnerability and security.

We examine the growth and well being of the human population and the demands that both place on environmental resources. The course begins with historical discussion of the study of the world population from Malthus and Marx to Caldwell and Zelinksy introducing key issues (e.g. natural change, mobility) in contemporary population studies.  Lectures then look at contemporary population growth, mobility and density with examples from of urbanisation in eastern Europe and the United States. These issues act as a prelude to a discussion of the rise of sustainable development and ecological modernization as frameworks for managing the environment. This provides the context for debates about environmental management in low-income countries, where interpretations of the relationship between population and resources are hotly disputed. The course examines controversy over ‘declinist’ narratives of environmental change, and the policies they have led to, using examples of desertification and deforestation. We then look at debates about situations of resource scarcity and abundance, examined through discussion of famine and the ‘resource curse’. This leads on to an examination of conservationist thought and policy, and an investigation of the roles of the state and community in resource management. With these broad issues in mind, we introduce the case study of water scarcity, food security and adaptation to changes in climate and demography. Lectures examine notions of equity and conflicts over who should control and manage resources. Examples are drawn from around the world.

Course Organisation

The course consists of two lectures each week through Term One. Lectures introduce ideas, themes and concepts and illustrate them with examples. The course reading list with targeted reading for each lecture is designed to elaborate on the principles outlined in the lectures and to provide case studies. Students will be encouraged to develop their own, small (between 4 and 6) self-run tutorial groups to discuss and debates notes based on assigned reading. Web-based practicals will be assigned but not assessed to support ideas and arguments raised in lectures. Students will be encouraged to analyse national statistics using very basic quantitative techniques in Microsoft Excel. Support from a Teaching Assistant will be made available for those with no prior knowledge of using Excel and basic statistics.

For this introductory course, previous knowledge of geography is less important than a curiosity about the issues under discussion.  For those students NOT registered for a single or joint honours degree in Geography, the lectures will be supplemented by three additional discussion sessions and essay preparation taken by either by assigned tutors or course lecturers.  Details will be communicated in the first lecture. Students registered in Geography and Human Sciences programmes have opportunities to discuss lectures and reading in their tutorial programmes. The course will be assessed through a single three-hour examination in the summer term, except for some categories of overseas students who will not be at UCL during Term Three and will consequently be assessed through coursework submitted before the end of Term One (14th December 2012). Because of the wide-ranging nature of the course there is no single textbook.  You are expected to read widely from the reading list. We also suggest that you read the environment sections of the broadsheet newspapers and such journals as Nature, Ambio, New Scientist, the Lancet and the Economist to keep up with on-going issues.