Policy in Theory and Practice: Environment and Development

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses

This yearlong seminar is about environmental policy. As such, it asks a number of questions. How and why does policy get made? Which information is heard and used, and which is not? What role does science play in environmental policy making? How are certain styles of development and development paradigms deployed? How is the policy process politicized? What happens to it after it is adopted as “policy”? We start with a historical review of development paradigms and how these shape environment-development discourses, revealing competing approaches to key contemporary issues such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, population, food security, land grabs, poverty alleviation, energy, community-based natural resource management, environmental violence, and environmental justice. While largely focusing on the Global South, with reference to Asia, Latin America, and Africa, and policies driven by international institutions such as the World Bank, as well as dominant nation states, the seminar will also draw on examples from the Global North. We then move to epistemology and theory building in the social and environmental sciences that influence environmental policy, examining diverse approaches from social theory and political ecology to policy studies, environmental economics, ecological modernization, and ecology. We will discuss power and the construction of environmental knowledge. This will be followed by an examination of environmental policy in formation and implementation at international (e.g., international environmental agreements), national (e.g., ministries and state agencies), and local levels (e.g., environmentally-themed programs and projects). We will then explore varied approaches to policy analysis; i.e., the methodological means to assess and improve policies in practice. Finally, we will examine the contested potential for policy improvement and associated movements for increased participation and democratization of policy processes. There will be a number of sessions involving group presentations, debate, and role-play on specific environment and development issues. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage, substantive research project focusing on an analysis and critique of an instance of policy of the student’s choice (usually grounded in texts but also involving fieldwork, if feasible). The intent will be to provide input for chosen policy actors—from social movements to NGOs to formal policy makers. As such, project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks. Prior experience in the social sciences is highly recommended.