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Capitalism and the Environment - A Sociological Perspective

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 13, 2020 - July 31, 20207/13 - 7/31M-F 12:15P-3:05POpenJon Nelson
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Course Description

The field of sociology was born out of the vast disruptions to traditional societal relationships occasioned by the emergence of capitalism. These societal transformations have touched every aspect of human life, it is also the case that the rise of capitalism has fundamentally transformed humans’ relationship with the natural environment. This course focuses on the latter transformations and explores both classical and contemporary sociological literature on the topic with the guiding question of whether capitalism and earth’s natural systems can sustainably co-exist. This course introduces students to the growing subfield of environmental sociology and gives them additional perspective on the work of canonical and contemporary scholars. This course will help students understand the ever-increasing pertinence of environmental questions to our future as a society.

This course explores the extension concepts from classical sociology and their application to contemporary environmental issues such as economic growth, environmental justice, and urbanization. We will explore concepts such as the metabolic rift between society and nature, the capitalist growth imperative, and environmental inequality from a variety of perspectives. The texts at core of the course draw on Karl Marx’s theories of capitalism and social metabolism as well as some of Max Weber’s lesser-known works. The overall goal is for students to conceptualize nature as something that plays a an ongoing and fundamental role in shaping societies rather than as an abstract entity from which we have freed ourselves by virtue of science and technology.

I have designed this course to maximize in-class participation. In general, units progress in the following manner: I will introduce the reading and contextualize the argument in lecture, students will then read the assigned literature and respond to an online discussion prompt with thoughts and questions that arose from the reading. I will then use those thoughts and questions as a basis for a lecture that emphasizes the main points and common misconceptions followed by a group discussion based on students’ online posts. This method of instruction mirrors that found in advanced seminars in sociology and encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning in a supportive environment.

Understand the fundamental forces driving capitalism

Synthesize theoretical texts and empirical cases in written and oral modes.

Reflect upon different paradigms of environmental sociology to decide how each may apply in a certain situation

Understand the concept of environmental racism and how capitalism perpetuates it.

Hypothesize the conditions under which human society could sustainably co-exist with nature.

Prerequisites: No specific background is necessary, but prospective students should be prepared to share their thoughts with others in a collaborative fashion as part of our group discussions.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CESO0950
  • Length: 3 weeks

Program Information

Summer@Brown

Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2020.

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