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2021/22 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

GEOG2661 Social Ecological Systems

10 creditsClass Size: 36

Module manager: Prof Jon Lovett

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2021/22

This module is mutually exclusive with

GEOG2062Sustainability: Living Within Limits

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Sustainability has three main components: social, economic and environmental. Social-ecological systems are where these three components overlap. The module has five topics: Justice in Natural Resource Management, Rights and Values in Ecosystem Services; Hierarchy in Property Rights; Human Impact in the Natural Environment; Scarcity and Conflict in the Natural Environment. Each topic is available as a 2 week course on the FutureLearn platform. Each topic is introduced with a summary of three relevant principles. The principles are then placed into context in case studies, followed by a debate on a topic related to an area of research. As it is based on a series of fundamental principles that are used as a platform to explore the topics in greater detail, the module is accessible to students from a wide range of backgrounds with an interest and knowledge of the environment. The teaching is supported by short videos on each of the principles, with longer videos on the case studies and debates. This frees the module from timetable constraints and provides a learning resource that can be used at any time. Classes will use the principles to discuss and explore topical examples in seminars. If social distancing measures are in place, then the classes will be held online. A proportion of the digital material for this module is hosted on the FutureLearn platform. Students enrolled on the module will need to create a FutureLearn account in order to access this material.


The module has three main objectives:
1. Introduce a series of fundamental principles that are important for understanding sustainability in social-ecological systems.
2. Demonstrate how the principles are applied in case studies.
3. Apply the principles to topical sustainability issues.

Learning outcomes
1. Knowledge of the fundamental principles and key people who formulated them.
2. Ability to describe how the principles are applied.
3. Ability to apply the principles in range of settings.


Topic 1. Justice in Natural Resource Management.
Principles: 1. John Rawls Theory of Justice. 2. Institutional economics and transaction costs. 3. Problems of aggregating social preferences.
Case study: Climate change and the conundrum of future generations.
Debate: Natural resource management in Nepal.
Topic 2. Rights and Values in Ecosystem Services. Principles: 1. The nature of values. 2. Coasian bargaining. 3. The precautionary principle.
Case study: The collision of values between organic farming and genetically modified crops.
Debate: Ecosystem services.
Topic 3. Hierarchy in Property Rights. Principles: 1. Hunter gatherers vs agriculturalists. 2. Hierarchy of property rights. 3. More people less erosion.
Case study: The history of Tanzanian forests.
Debate: The language of nature.
Topic 4. Human Impact in the Natural Environment.
Principles: 1. Causality and patterns of diversity. 2. Internal dynamics vs external drivers. 3. Mathematics of human ecology.
Case study: Ecocentric vs anthropocentric perspectives.
Debate: Population dynamics in practical conservation management.
Topic 5. Scarcity and Conflict in the Natural Environment Principles: 1. Coming economics of spaceship Earth. 2. Scarcity and conflict. 3. Environment as a weapon of war.
Case study: Water and peace.
Debate: Effects of conflict on the environment in Lebanon.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Class tests, exams and assessment50.502.50
Independent online learning hours30.00
Private study hours57.50
Total Contact hours12.50
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)100.00

Private study

Independent online learning:
The module has a series of high quality digital assets that have been running successfully on the FutureLearn platform in the ‘Environmental Challenges Program’ since 2013 with over 100,000 participants from more than 170 countries.
The three core elements of the module i.e. the principles, application of principles to case studies and debate of a topical issue using the principles, are all captured in videos used in the MOOC. In addition there are a series of supporting podcasts and downloads. Six hours online learning has been allocated to each of the five topics, giving a total of 30 hours. Online learning includes online discussion in the forums on each of the learning steps in the MOOC. This provides a rich learning resource that builds up as the MOOC runs.
Private study:
Core texts are allocated to the digital assets. These consist of classic papers and, where available, Nobel prize speeches for each of the principles (some of the speeches are also available as videos). The case studies are supported by a series of papers and reports. For each seminar the students will be required to read background documents in order to inform themselves of the topical issue to be discussed in class. A total of 57.5 hours has been allocated to reading the papers and documents, and to preparation of the assessed assignment.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

MCQs are available at the end of each of the five MOOC courses and can be used for formative self-assessment. Half an hour has been allocated for completion of each of the MCQ tests.
- Student progress will also be monitored in the seminars.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2000 words100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 26/10/2021


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