Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

“The environment” has had different meanings for different people at different points in history. It can be a critically threatened set of processes and relationships, a harsh and threatening force, an unremarkable backdrop of everyday life, or even a non-existent concept all together. To approach “the environment” anthropologically, we not only examine the ways that environments shape and are shaped by human activities, but also examine how concepts such as the environment, nature, and wilderness have emerged historically, vary cross-culturally, and can serve certain interests over others. These two tasks are key goals for this course. Pursuing both will help us go beyond merely understanding environmental issues to also question the assumptions on which common understandings are based. One important shift in thinking we will try on, for example, is cultivating a better appreciation for the ways in which we are always embedded in environmental processes whether indoors, outdoors, in the city, in a forest, etc. Another key consideration in this class is politics. Today’s progressive environmental anthropology, like the broader field of sociocultural anthropology, embraces taking political positions, and actively seeks to create knowledge that can translate into political practice. With this consideration in mind, the class will focus a lot of attention on environmentalism in terms of different efforts to imagine and bring about better environmental futures.

Student Outcomes

Students will be able to . . . ● Understand the anthropological approach to studying “the environment,” which involves analyzing the relationship between human activities and the environment's impact on culture and society. ● Question and critically evaluate prevailing assumptions about the environment, challenging conventional wisdom and recognizing the complex and multi-dimensional nature of environmental issues. ● Develop an awareness of the inextricable connection between human beings and their environments, indoors or outdoors, urban or rural, emphasizing the constant interplay between human and natural processes. ● Assess the impact of different environmental concepts and movements on societies and cultures, recognizing how these concepts can shape public discourse, policies, and social practices.