< GEOG387 : Environment, Politics and Society in Amazonia

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GEOG387 : Environment, Politics and Society in Amazonia

Department:Lancaster Environment Centre
Level:Part II (yr 3)
Learning Hours:150
Credit Points:15
Course Convenor:Dr RJ Ellis

Assessment Rules

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  • 50% Exam
  • 50% Coursework

Curriculum Design: Outline Syllabus

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The course will consist of weekly 50-minute lectures plus 50-minute discussion sessions based on selected readings and audio-visual material. The following is a draft outline of topics to be covered.
Week 1: The Amazon: Colonial and Post-Colonial Encounters and Imaginations
The first lecture will introduce students to a range of representations of the Amazon region produced between the 16th Century and present day by explorers, naturalists, ecologists, anthropologists and film makers. Drawing upon post-colonial approaches, students will be encouraged to think critically about the political and economic implications (global and local) of a history of representation of the Amazon’s natural environment and human populations as ‘exotic others’.
Week 2: The Making and Re-making of Amazonian Landscapes: historical ecology and human adaptation
This lecture will explore varying accounts of Amazonia as a pristine (natural) and/or lived in human (cultural) landscape by introducing students to different social and historical ecological approaches to human relationships (past and present) to Amazonian ecosystems. In particular the students will be encouraged to analyze the possible implications of so-called historical and cultural Amazonian landscapes for contemporary biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
Week 3: Drugs, Precious Metals and the Rain Forest: Extracting and Mobilising Amazonian Natural Resources
This lecture aims to locate certain livelihood strategies developed in the Amazon as shaped by and contributing to a global political economy of natural resource exploitation, transformation and use. By focusing upon both the production and trafficking of coca (and cocaine) and upon the practices and economies of precious metal mining (gold), the realities of and challenges faced by local Amazonian communities will be explored as integral to the commodity chains which link the Amazon with the global economy.

Week 4: Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation of Tropical Forests (invited lecturer – Jos Barlow)
This lecture will explore the interactions between agricultural expansion and biodiversity loss in the tropics, and will explore the potential benefits of wildlife friendly farming (such as agroforestry) versus land-sparing (intensive farming with reserves).

Week 5: Sustainable Management: Extractive Resources (invited lecturer – Jos Barlow)
This lecture will cover the sustainability of extractive activities in the Amazon, examining both timber extraction (selective logging) and non-timber forest products (e.g. Rubber, Brazil nuts, and Copaiba).
Week 6: Indigenous Politics and Nation States: land rights and co-management of resources
This lecture will explore global policy making and national politics affecting indigenous communities by focussing upon land and intellectual property rights. In this way, contemporary indigenous realities will be demonstrated to be closely intertwined with global policy and political negotiations and their rationalisation at national and local levels (e.g. Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights).

Week 7: Other Amazonians: the realities and needs of non-indigenous Amazonian populations
This lecture will introduce students to a selection of Amazonian human communities who do not fit the stereotypical accounts of the indigenous and tribal. Communities of people of mixed ancestry, river traders, immigrant, and colonist populations have a long presence in the region and present sometimes different livelihood strategies and needs with important implications for the natural environment.
Week 8: The Shamanic Universe: indigenous cosmologies and natural resource management
This lecture will introduce students to anthropological approaches to indigenous cosmologies by focussing upon shamanic knowledge and practice. The lecture will firstly draw connections between indigenous religion and natural resource management and then explore the motivations for and implications of the growing phenomenon of religious conversion (Christian Evangelism).

Week 9: Order Without Government: Amazonian Egalitarian and Peaceful Societies
Both Weeks 9 and 10 will explore varying forms (egalitarian and hierarchical) of indigenous socio-political organisation and will draw connections between these and their implications for environmental management (e.g. the relationship between rural violence and deforestation will be assessed).

Week 10: Violence, Warfare and Leadership in the Amazon
Week 10 will round up with an overview of the course with a view to considering possible future scenarios for the Amazon region (e.g. as effected by and contributing to climate change).

Curriculum Design: Pre-requisites/Co-requisites/Exclusions

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Successful completion of second year Geography courses as Major, Joint Major or Minor student

Educational Aims: Subject Specific: Knowledge, Understanding and Skills

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This module aims to introduce students to the human (indigenous and non-indigenous) and natural complexity of the Amazon as a region currently at the centre of debates in environmental politics. Whilst the focus will be upon social, political, economic and environmental issues which are currently topical, it will - with the combined resources of text and film – encourage students to observe contemporary Amazonia as the outcome of intertwined histories of humans and non-humans (animals, forests and rivers). The module will draw upon literatures from social anthropology, human geography and ecological science and, in so doing, provide students with different but related approaches to the relationships between human social and political organisation and styles of natural resource

Educational Aims: General: Knowledge, Understanding and Skills

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Lectures will draw upon and illustrate the readings selected for each week. Given the complex nature of some of the topics introduced during lectures, students will be challenged to engage critically with the recommended literature in order to develop further insights on the material delivered during the lecture. This process will be facilitated by discussion and debate during seminar sessions which will be organised around particular problem-based issues. Seminars will often involve group work and sometimes students will be expected to prepare a presentation (either individually or in a group) through which they will be expected to learn to critique academic positions on specific issues and to critically analyse concerns of current interest. Films will be occasionally used as complementary and sometimes provocative material for further analysis.

Learning Outcomes: Subject Specific: Knowledge, Understanding and Skills

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On successful completion of this module students will be able to...  

a)     Demonstrate in writing (exam and essay) a sophisticated understanding of a range of topics which relate human social, political and economic organisation to environmental management strategies and politics in the Amazon.

b)     Develop a critical appreciation of the Amazon as firmly located in and shaped by global political and economic forces.

c)     Appreciate and critically analyse accounts of historical and contemporary Amazonia provided by a range of disciplines (social anthropology, human geography, ecological sciences).

Learning Outcomes: General: Knowledge, Understanding and Skills

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On successful completion of this module students will be able to...
a)     Refined their intellectual, practical and discursive skills by preparing for and practicing individual presentations and group discussions

b)     Demonstrated an ability to weigh up and consider the array of sometimes polemic accounts of past and current approaches to human-natural relationships in the Amazon.

Assessment: Details of Assessment

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1 x 2000 word assignment
1 x 2 hour examination

Curriculum Design: Single, Combined or Consortial Schemes to which the Module Contributes

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Optional for a) B.A. and B.Sc. Hons Geography, B.A. and B.Sc. Hons Geography with study in USA/Canada, B.A. Human Geography, B.A. Human Geography with study in North America/Canada, B.Sc. Physical Geography, All B.A. Joint Honours Degrees involving Geography; b) B.Sc. Biology and Geography (Hons), B.Sc. Ecology (Hons), B.Sc. Environmental Biology (Hons), B.Sc. Conservation Biology (Hons); and c) B.Sc. (Hons) Environmental Science, B.Sc. (Hons) Earth Science with Geography, B.Sc. Environmental Change, all B.Sc. Joint Honours involving Geography.
Lancaster University
LancasterLA1 4YW United Kingdom
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