WASS and SENSE master class: Conceptual foundations of modern environmental governance

This master class will examine the conceptual foundations of contemporary environmental governance, interrogating key ideas which currently frame theory and practice in the environmental domain. Concepts can be understood as ‘thought categories’ through which we apprehend, and to some degree constitute, the world around us. They enable, but also constrain, reasoning and argument. Over the past forty years there have been repeated waves of conceptual innovation that have adjusted the ways societies think and act in the environmental domain. Ideas such as 'bio-diversity', 'critical loads', 'environmental security', 'sustainable development', 'carbon accounting', 'adaptive management', or the 'polluter pays principle' have helped structure the way environmental issues are experienced and managed. Getting to grips with conceptual innovation is important for scholars as they seek both to understand the complex evolution of environmental governance, and to be more rigorous and self-conscious about conceptual usage in their own research practice.

This master class will allow students to explore the evolution of the conceptual field of environmental governance; to interrogate critically the concepts which play a central role in environmental politics and policy; and to present conceptual problems they are experiencing in their own research for collective discussion. Attention will be given to the evolution of the field since the 1960s as well as to emerging ideas such as 'resilience', 'the anthropocene', 'planetary boundaries', 'earth systems governance', 'ecosystems services', 'green growth' and so on.

Since the topic is broad, the aim of this short course is not to provide exhaustive coverage of individual concepts but rather to present an historical overview, to examines approaches to conceptual analysis, to explore a series of conceptual exemplars, and to focus on conceptual issues students are wrestling with in their own research activities. Students will be asked to nominate up to three concepts -- which they find particularly interesting or important for their research work -- when they register for the class, and as much as possible these will be incorporated into the discussion.

 Learning objectives: to explore methods of conceptual analysis in environmental politics, policy and management; to encourage advanced reflection about the important conceptual categories being invoked in the area of environmental governance; to enable students to interrogate conceptual categories important for their own research activities.