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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

SLSP2932 Sociology and the Climate Crisis

20 creditsClass Size: 80

Module manager: Professor Sarah Irwin

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

Pre-requisite qualifications

At least 20 credits at Level 1 from a social science related discipline.

Module replaces


This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

The climate emergency and linked breakdown in natural systems is one of the defining issues of our time, arguably of human civilization itself, auguring epochal change. The crisis, and societal responses to it, very urgently require social scientific knowledge and tools for understanding. The crisis begs fundamental sociological questions relating to its epochal significance for livelihoods, human well-being and suffering, social inequalities, power, and social practices and relationships. In the module students will learn about the nature of the climate crisis, how it has evolved and how scientific knowledge has been accumulated, communicated and contested. They will examine evidence on public opinion and concern and theories from different disciplines which seek to explain related puzzles of inaction. We will interrogate social inequalities, climate justice, politics and power in climate change dynamics with reference to cross-national and global North South inequalities as well as within-nation inequalities. We will examine youth, debates about generational justice and related 'temporal imaginaries' of climate change. The module will examine and evaluate prospects for policy interventions, citizen engagement, participation and deliberation. Through the module the team will draw on examples of their own research and policy engagement.


The module will support students to:
a. develop a breadth and depth of social scientific knowledge about human impacts on the climate and other natural systems and the consequences for human societies;
b. to evaluate the disciplinary contribution of sociology to understanding anthropogenic influence on the climate and on biodiversity;
c. to develop a critical and analytic understanding of key debates relating to climate science and communication, social inequalities, social practice theory, cultural and temporal framings of climate change;
d. to investigate and evaluate policies for environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation and adaptation; and
e. to develop skills in communicating their learning in different written forms for different audiences

Learning outcomes
Students will develop:
1. a sound understanding of key debates within the sociology of the climate crisis.
2. an analytic understanding of the development of social science knowledge, theories and evidence pertaining to the climate crisis and the breakdown of natural systems, and related historical, economic, social and cultural causes and consequences.
3. a critical understanding of a range of inter-connected areas of research, and the role of sociology, in interpreting societal consequences of, and responses to, climate change. These include social inequalities, just transition debates, public opinion and values, (mis)communicating science, consumerism, sustainability and social practice theory.
4. a critical understanding of policy developments, diverse policy strategies and the ability to evaluate evidence of their efficacy.
5. an ability to communicate knowledge and analytic skills of synthesis and independent critical judgement through oral presentation and debate within seminars and through written (blog and essay) work.


The module will explore the nature of the climate and environmental crises and the role of social science research and understanding in areas which have long been the domain of climate and environmental scientists. It will review and evaluate research and evidence relating to diverse areas. Following an introduction to the nature and causes of human made climate change the syllabus will take a thematic focus on public opinion and climate change perceptions and cover issues relating to attitudes and values, public engagement and science communication. Secondly, a thematic focus on Inequalities will include just transition debates and evidence on class, gender, ethnicity and global North/South inequalities as well as intra-national emission and vulnerability inequalities. It will also engage with debates on youth, generation and cultural timescapes of climate change. Thirdly a focus on policy responses, framings and interventions will include questions relating to locale, community, economic resources, resilience, public engagement and prospects for effecting climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
On-line Learning44.004.00
Independent online learning hours20.00
Private study hours155.00
Total Contact hours25.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Independent online learning
Accompanying our lecture resources we will provide steers to/ questions about complementary on-line resources of which there are many relating to the climate crisis including excellent documentaries, independent research organisation presentations, blogs and reports, and quality journalism and podcasts by experts in the field. These will directly support topic related learning and engagement as well as breadth of understanding of diverse sources. (total: 20 hours)

Private study
Students will engage with lectures, workshops and with the complementary online resources. They will be provided with steers to then help guide their reading and study. They will be expected to read, assimilate and prepare critical summaries and reflections for seminar work (8 hours per week over 10 weeks)

Students will spend an additional 20 hours preparing and writing a blog; the assessment will be based on work undertaken in the first 4 weeks.

Students will be expected to spend 55 hours preparing and writing their end of module essay assessment.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will be invited to submit essay outlines to review with their tutor in a face to face meeting.
They will also receive feedback in an ongoing way through their seminar work.

The blog will be explained in detail and, itself, is an opportunity for early feedback on knowledge and understanding, and at 20% of the final module mark is relatively 'low stakes'. As such we will not provide formative feedback on this component.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 2,000 word80.00
Written Work1 x 1,000 word Blog20.00
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: 27/07/2023


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