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Global Political Ecology

Ecological Worldviews Module

My goal was to develop a module in a course called Global Political Ecology (GPE) to help the students reflect on their relationship with the environment. GPE, offered every fall semester, takes an interdisciplinary approach to teach students how to integrate methods from different disciplines when they study environmental topics. The course focused on methods and content from the natural sciences and the social sciences, mostly economics, political science and sociology.

The SAIL workshop introduced me to new terminology, methods and resources from the humanities that helped me develop a full module on ecological worldviews. After the workshop, methods and perspectives from the arts, humanities, and ethics were introduced into the course as well. This new module introduces the students to ways of inquiry grounded in the arts and the humanities to facilitate a reflection on ways of knowing the environment and our personal relationship with it.

This module helps the students engage the following:

  • Different ecological worldviews
  • How to interrogate the students’ own relationship to the environment
  • How to develop the students’ own ecological worldview

What ethical considerations do these ecological worldviews entail


Global Political Ecology (GPE) is an elective for international relations, political science and environmental studies majors.

The only prerequisite is a 100-level political science course to make sure the students are familiar with methods of social inquiry. The prerequisite can be waived if the students have taken an equivalent course. There are no prerequisite skills students must master in this course to complete this module successfully. Rather, the module introduces new skills.

This module is a stand-alone section that takes place during the last four weeks of the semester. By then the students are familiar with environmental law and policy at different levels of analysis, from the local to the international.


Updated Feb 22, 2017

Content/ Concepts Goals

Introduction to the concept of “ecological worldviews”. I use as evidence of learning the students’ ability to articulate the main values/principles of each worldview and to contrast them.

Higher Order Thinking Skills Goals

Familiarity with some of the tools developed in the humanities to study the environment and interrogate our relationship with it. Introduction of the “I” subject in the analysis.

Reflection on the ethical implications of our engagement with the environment.

Reflection on the relationship between knowledge production and normativity. The module helps the students understand the difference between interpretive theory and normative theory.

Multidisciplinary Analysis

The students will understand how methods and knowledge developed in different disciplines (in the case of this module in the humanities) can contribute to a more holistic understanding of environmental issues and, particularly, to our role both as students and agents of the environment. Assessment of learning is based on the students’ addition of ethics to their analysis of environmental issues.


Updated Feb 22, 2017

Activism on Campus Project

Develop, implement, and assess a plan to make our campus more sustainable. (Prospectus, Action Plan, Final Presentation). The main goal of the project is to get the college to institutionalize green practices.

Internship/Consulting Report

Students work in teams for an organization that is conducting a project on an environmental issue.

  • Learn how to write a consulting report
  • Learn what it’s like to work as a consultant
  • Develop teamwork skills
  • Sharpen research and writing skills
Climate Change Simulation

The class will simulate a UNFCCC/COP Conference, to formulate a resolution to inspire a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expired at the end of 2012. The main goal is to help students understand the challenges of collective decision-making by participating in a simulation of an international summit.

Final Essay

A five-page essay that articulates students’ own ecological worldviews. The main goals of this essay are to reflect on your own relationship with nature and facilitate an ethical analysis of topics covered in the course.

Dissemination Strategies

This module comprises the last four weeks of the semester (Week 12 through Week 15).

Week 12

The idea of wilderness

Main goal: To help students learn how understandings of societies’ relation to nature are rooted in their philosophical traditions. To illustrate this, engage in a sort of “archeology of knowledge” assignment to learn how contemporary Western understandings of nature-society relations evolved through the agricultural revolution, Ancient Greece, Judeo-Christian myths and the scientific revolution. The students learn that people’s understanding of society’s relations to the environment are culturally and historically contingent.

Reading: Max Oelschlaeger, “Ancient Mediterranean Ideas of Humankind and Nature” and “The Alchemy of Modernism” in Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991.

Week 13

Ecological Worldviews

Once we have problematized our own society’s understanding of its relationship with nature the students are ready to learn about alternative conceptions. The readings this week introduce the students to contemporary mainstream ecological worldviews such as utilitarian ecologies and conservationism, but also to alternatives, including authoritarian ecology, misanthropic ecology, ecofeminism, radical ecology, deep ecology, social ecology, and ecosocialism. The students learn that there are many alternative ways to relate to the environment.

Reading: Leferrière and Stoett, “Ecological Thought. A Synopsis”. In Eric Leferrière and Peter J. Stoett, International Relations Theory and Ecological Thought, London, Routledge, 1999, chapter 2. Vandana Shiva, Making Peace with Earth. New Delhi (India): Women Unlimited.

Week 14

Building an ecological worldview

Now that students know different ecological worldviews, Beloit College colleagues Chris Fink (English) and Jo Ortel (Art History) are invited to illustrate how different artists reflect on their own relation to the environment. Chris Fink reads some of his short stories about life in the rural Midwest and Jo Ortel shows us the work of artists who push us to think about our imprint on nature. Their presentations and ensuing discussions invite the students to start exploring their own understanding of society’s relationship to nature.

Reading: Chris Fink (2013), Farmers’ Almanac: a Work of Fiction. Emergency Press, New York.

Week 15

My own ecological worldview

Students are now ready to develop their own ecological worldview. During the last week of the semester the students think about and discuss their own understanding of society’s relation to the environment. They articulate their views in a final essay that works as the capstone assignment for the course.

Teaching Notes

I faced two main challenges when teaching this module in Fall 2014. The first one is my lack of expertise in the arts and the humanities. To ease my discomfort, I disclosed to students that I am also embarking on this project of self-understanding with them and that my role is facilitator. The process of analysis and deconstruction of the assigned texts is a collaborative in nature. The goal is to give everyone arguments they can use to later articulate their own ecological worldview.

The second challenge is how to push the students to articulate and share their own ecological worldview in class. Some of them feel uncomfortable because they see this process as a confession. To overcome this, I follow several strategies. During class we break up into small groups where some students feel more comfortable. We also summarize the main ideas behind each ecological worldview on the board and ask everyone to stand by the one that best matches their own. I also stand by one of them. To help them write their reflection essay, I ask them to build their ecological worldview on some of the arguments provided in the reading or by the guest speakers so that they can see the assignment as a literature review rather than a personal confession.

Resources and Materials

POLS 255-01 Global Political Ecology pdf

Fink, Chris (2013), “Farmers’ Almanac: A Work of Fiction”. Emergency Press, New York.

Leferrière, Eric and Peter J. Stoett (1999), International Relations Theory and Ecological Thought,London, Routledge.

Oelschlaeger, Max (1991) The Idea of Wilderness. New Haven, Yale University Press.

Shiva, Vandana (2012), Making Peace with the Earth. New Delhi (India): Women Unlimited.

Outcomes and Significance

Assessment is based on a final reflection essay in which the students articulate their ecological worldview by building on the readings included in this module. As they articulate their arguments they must reference material covered earlier in the semester (the course focuses on environmental law and policy). By doing this they ground their own thought on specific problems and evidence from current environmental problems and existing decision-making institutions. The assignment thus provides an excellent capstone to the entire course. (See Activities).

Lead Partner
Pablo Toral
Associate Professor, Beloit College
International Relations, Environmental Studies
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