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(Urban) Political Ecology

graduate seminar

Political Ecology, drawing largely from Marxist political economy, provides an interdisciplinary framework to study how power shapes human-environment relationships. Within the subfield of human geography, this framework focuses on processes of accumulation shaping struggles over land and other natural resources. Extending this work, urban political ecology (UPE) emerged in the 1990s to understand how uneven and unjust urban environments are produced. This course draws on both sets of literatures and genealogies. Throughout the semester we’ll center a series of questions: what is nature and how do humans know, understand, and relate to nature? What does it mean to be human in the first place and how does this meaning differ across people, places, and time? How do racial capitalism and settler colonialism shape human-environmental relationships, socially, materially, and ideologically within cities and beyond?


Through these questions, this course explores the contemporary crises of global climate change, debates the significance of the so-called anthropocene, and discusses the possibilities and limitations of proposed visions for the future. We examine a wide range of environmental issues from extractive industries and “just” transitions; struggles over food, land, and water; relations to more-than-human animals; toxic prisons and environmental racisms; and desirable futures. Throughout, we think with and learn from Black, Indigenous, and abolition ecologies. At times we traverse scales and places, globally, but this course maintains some geographic blindspots with a primary focus on the US.

The Broad river, photo by Carrie Freshour, July 2023

Learning Objectives and Outcomes

  • Understand how power and difference are created, enacted, and reproduced spatially, and onto our environments, structured through racial capitalism and settler colonialism;

  • Evaluate methodological and theoretical debates within (urban) political ecology;

  • Learn from the multiple ways of knowing and being in relation to broader ecologies (Black, Indigenous, and abolition frameworks);

  • Identify social movements that resist, refuse, and transform existing socio-environmental relationships;

  • Analyze scientific, popular, and policy-oriented responses to climate change within the current epoch (anthropocene?/capitalocene?/cene scene?);

  • Strengthen critical thinking, reading, writing, discussion, and public presentation skills;

  • Meaningfully contribute to efforts to produce a more environmentally just and ecologically desirable present and future in your communities, studies, and/or careers.

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