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icono de curso

Development, Environment and Natural Resources


Credits: 4 ECTS

Second semester

Pathway core courses




A growing and globally inter-connected society entails increasing pressures on ecosystems for the extraction of both renewable and non-renewable resources, a relentless reduction in biodiversity across the world’s ecosystems, as well as an expanding use of soils, water systems, oceans and the atmosphere as pollution sinks. In response, an increasing number of policy approaches targeted at both minimizing environmental impacts and resource loss and maximizing social welfare have been put forward and implemented, which have notwithstanding generated their own problems and led to questionable policy panaceas and misguided ‘win-win’ solutions.

This course draws on political ecology to analyse contemporary development and environmental problems and solutions focusing most prominently in rural environments of the global South. Political ecology is a theoretical and methodological approach for the study of social-ecological systems that focuses on conflict, power and the uneven distribution of costs and benefits in interventions aimed at exploiting or conserving natural resources, or at accessing the biosphere as a pollution sink. The course lays first the theoretical foundations of political ecology, and subsequently explores problems like climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification, and land ‘grabs’, and their manifestation at local scales. For some of these, proposed policy solutions, including climate mitigation and adaptation programs, protected areas, or reforestation schemes are presented and discussed.


The course is based on lectures by the instructor, discussion of videos and key readings, as well as collective exercises in class. The book by Paul Robbins [Political Ecology, Blackwell, 2012 Second edition] is a reference work during the course that students are encouraged to buy (one copy being available at the library). Lectures 6 and 7 are likely to count with an invited speaker.

All students (depending on enrolment size) are expected to attend all classes, participate actively in the collective (in-class) exercises, and deliver two pieces of individual written work, which include a blog or media piece to communicate the contents of a scientific article to a lay audience; AND a review essay OR a book review. Details for each of these expected pieces of work are provided below.

A. Class attendance and readings. The course puts a strong emphasis on active student participation: it uses half of each week’s time for lectures to present the main points of the compulsory readings and additional related literature. The readings suggested in the lectures below are only a subset of the available literature for each theme. Two compulsory readings are shown first, and extra readings subsequently. Students are encouraged to look for more literature, particularly for those topics that might interest them most. At the end of this section, a longer list of textbooks and literature sources are also provided. It is essential that students prepare well every class reading, at least, one of the suggested compulsory articles. Attendance and participation count towards 10% of the final grade.

B. In-class ‘exercises’ (Collective work). Four lectures will encompass an exercise in class, which will together count towards 20% of the final grade. The exercises will involve working in pairs to reflect and/or apply the contents of the lecture, analysing a dataset with other peers, and playing a game in groups of four people. 

  • Lecture 2: “Chains of explanation” (in pairs, 5% of the final grade);
  • Lecture 8: ‘Discourse analysis’ (in pairs, 5% of the final grade);
  • Lecture 11: ‘Land grabbing datasets’ (in groups, 5% of the final grade);
  • Lecture 12: ‘The land rush game’ (in groups, 5% of the final grade).

C. A blog or media piece for a lay audience (Individual work). The student picks up one of the ‘extra readings’ suggested for the course and writes a 750 words (max.) blog piece or an online media podcast, following the student’s chosen style. Beware that nicely-presented and well-edited ‘products’ deserve a better grade if the content is good. The piece has to present both the paper and its findings in a language understandable to a lay audience. The student is invited to use a non-written communication strategy and to develop an oral piece, e.g. a radio program or YouTube video. Additionally, and regardless of the submission format (text, audio or video), the student can accompany the document with a tweet to promote the article. This assignment counts towards 35% of the final grade. A 5% penalty for every day of delay in submission of the assignment applies. 

The best pieces will be published in IBEI’s website (with consent) at the end of the academic year.

D. Review essay (Individual work). A research paper (double-spaced, 2000 words, excluding bibliography) that makes a succinct and well-researched argument about one of the topics suggested below or one that might appeal to the student and is related to the course. If the latter option is chosen, please discuss the topic with the course instructor first. The review essay counts towards 35% of the final grade. A 5% penalty for every day of delay in submission of the assignment applies.

Essay topics: Develop an argument-based review of recent academic articles (i.e. scientific literature available through Web of Knowledge, Scopus or Google Scholar) to discuss and/or problematize one of the following statements.

  • Conserving biodiversity matters and should be pursued at all costs. Illustrate your argument with examples.
  • Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is a policy framework that has translated into both conflicts and cooperation when laid out in the global South. Illustrate your argument with examples.
  • Depopulation and climate change are two causes of increased vulnerability in rural environments. Illustrate your argument with data and examples.

E. Book review (Individual work). A comparative book review (double spaced, 2000 words, excluding bibliography) is an alternative to the review essay above. It should identify the main contributions of two books: one of the books suggested below and another one of a similar topic to be selected by the student (and discussed beforehand with the lecturer). The comparative review will have to highlight the main contents of both books, their relative strengths and shortcomings, as well as their policy relevance. As examples of published book reviews, see Corbera 2017 (Redeeming REDD+) and Corbera 2012 (Powers of exclusion) available for download at http://estevecorbera.com/publications/The comparative book review counts towards 35% of the final grade. A 5% penalty for every day of delay in submission of the assignment applies.

Competences, learning outcomes and teaching activities (PDF)