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MAAS-568 Critical Environmental Studies of Contemporary MENA
Spring for 2014-2015
Rignall, Karen
This seminar introduces students to how political ecology, an interdisciplinary field that critically explores the political dimensions of nature/society relations, can shed light on the key environmental challenges facing the contemporary Middle East and North Africa (MENA). For decades, scholars have examined the management of strategic resources such as oil and water primarily from international relations or political economy perspectives. In this course, we bring other academic approaches to bear on these discussions and explore how people grapple with environmental challenges in their everyday lives. The course expands the range of environmental questions usually addressed in the scholarship to include: desertification and land degradation in arid lands, the contemporary practice of pastoralism, agricultural production, urban environments, and environmental history.

Under the banner of political ecology, geographers, anthropologists, and environmental scientists have developed a diverse array of methods and theories to ask critical questions about human-environment interactions. By conducting community-level field studies and foregrounding local perspectives on environmental change, political ecologists have given us the critical tools to ask new questions about the environment in the Middle East and North Africa. How do environmental narratives -- the stories that explain the reasons for environmental degradation -- get formed? What political interests do they reflect? What does the evidence tell us about the reasons for and extent of environmental problems in the MENA region? What are the different ways to interpret the evidence -- and the political interests at stake in various interpretations? How do power and inequality shape the ways different groups of people experience environmental stress?
In this discussion-based seminar, we will use case studies, ethnography, and other sources to develop our own critical language for analyzing the environmental challenges facing the contemporary Middle East and North Africa. Most weeks, I have paired region specific readings with foundational texts from political ecology. At the end of the course, students will develop an understanding of the major environmental questions in the region from the perspective of many different relevant actors: from governments, to farmers, marginalized urban dwellers, pastoralists, and others.
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
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