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2021/22 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

LISS1044 Facing Extinction: The Cultural Life of Biodiversity Loss

10 creditsClass Size: 30

Module manager: Dr Dominic O’Key

Taught: 1 Jul to 31 Aug View Timetable

Year running 2021/22

Pre-requisite qualifications

GPA of 2.8 (US) or equivalent and enrolled at a university

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

The much-loved British naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, has recently warned that “we are facing a crisis, and one that has consequences for us all.” Attenborough is speaking not about climate change, but about biodiversity loss. Today, biologists and zoologists claim that we are living through a global mass extinction event. They say that, unless we take radical action, we can expect as much as half of the planet’s flora and fauna to become functionally extinct by this century’s end. Termed the ‘Sixth Extinction’, or the Sixth Mass Extinction Event, this major biodiversity crisis often conjures extreme images of an apocalyptic future: of decimated nature, civilizational collapse, and even the demise of the human species. But what causes extinction? When, exactly, does a species become extinct? Who or what is to blame for this dramatic loss of species? How ought we respond to this knowledge of extinction? And who is incorporated or excluded from this universal “we”? In this module we will explore together the difficult but urgent challenge of thinking, feeling and facing the current extinction crisis. In the first part of the module, you will trace the conceptual valences of extinction. In the second part of the module, we will focus on philosophical, social and political questions relating to extinction, turning to works of nonfiction, poetry and documentary filmmaking that differently face extinction.


1. To introduce students to the complex and changing cultural histories of extinction and biodiversity loss.

2. To survey the cultural aspects of the drivers, characteristics and consequences of the Sixth Extinction.

3. To familiarize students with problems relating to extinction, endangerment and conservation through the interdisciplinary field of the environmental humanities.

4. To explore how our ideas about nature and culture are co-shaped.

Learning outcomes
LO1: Have developed an understanding of the main ideas, debates, problems and priorities of the current discourse on mass extinction.

LO2: Considered how the main drivers of mass extinction (e.g. deforestation) relate to wider cultural and philosophical questions.

LO3: Be able to offer analytical and creative responses to environmental problems.

LO4: Appreciate the distinctive contribution that the study of culture and history of science can make to thinking about the contemporary environmental crisis.


Indicative syllabus:

Facing Extinction affords students the opportunity to reflect on the current extinction crisis by looking at a wide range of materials. In the first part of the module, students will trace the conceptual valences of extinction. We will begin by encountering foundational early theories of extinction articulated by figures such as Georges Cuvier and Charles Darwin. We will then engage with those more recent scientists, such as E.O. Wilson, who have expanded our idea of extinction. After this, we will learn about indigenous epistemologies of extinction, which think of humanity as having broken a treaty with other species. In the second part of the module, we will focus on philosophical, social and political questions relating to extinction: Does a species go extinct when its population has been dramatically reduced, or when its last individual or endling dies? How is extinction represented in literature and film? What is to be done to halt the Sixth Extinction?

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
Independent online learning hours15.00
Private study hours43.00
Total Contact hours42.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)100.00

Private study

15 hours pre-course preparatory work (materials available on Minerva): this will include reading assigned texts and preparation of elements relevant to assignments and group work in class.

43 hours private study: this will include reading assigned texts, preparing class assignments and completing one written assignment.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Participation in class discussion will engender feedback from the tutor as well as from other students.

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
Essay1,500 words60.00
Presentation10 minute group presentation40.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

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

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/06/2021 16:24:23


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