Environmental Studies (ENVS) 670

The Nature of Nature: Ecology, Non-human life, and Human Obligations (Revision 1)

ENVS 670 course cover

Delivery Mode: Grouped study

Credits: 3

Prerequisite: None

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Program: Master of Arts - Interdisciplinary Studies

**Note: Students in Group Study courses are advised that this syllabus may vary in key details in each instance of the course. Always refer to the Moodle site for the most up-to-date details on texts, assignment structure, and grading.**


Welcome to Environmental Studies 670, Nature, Humans and Ecology

This course will first ground learners in the most prevalent traditional normative and ontological conceptions and arguments regarding the natural world and human relations to the non-human within an overall ecology. This grounding will then put them in a position to engage with the primary themes of the course drawn from recent work in both theoretical/hermeneutical as well as empirical/scientific areas of research. This will in turn be utilized to frame the student's understanding of nature, life, ecosystems, and what normative relations with respect to them might mean. Students will be guided through a critical evaluation of the arguments and invited to reframe environmental issues in terms of the course readings through peer-to-peer discussion, group work, and individual written work.

The course is designed to establish an intellectual foundation in some of the ideas and arguments that have been influential and which call for a response on our part, and then to open up new directions and streams of inquiry with respect to the future while taking into consideration the issues that face us at both local as well as global levels. Thus it moves from grounding in what has been determined - the past of how nature has been understood - to breaking open that ground in order to release possibilities for what has not yet been thought or done - future directions for understanding nature and life.

Course Objectives

After completing this course, you should be able to:

  1. explain the global relevance of the transformations of the idea of nature in Western history with respect to the ancient and Medieval worlds, modernity, and postmodernity,
  2. articulate the differences as well as possible synergies between predominant Western ideas of nature on the one hand and certain non-Western and/or Indigenous perspectives as well as marginalized perspectives within the Western tradition on the other hand,
  3. explain the differences between environmental or ecological ethics on the one hand and rights-based positions on the other hand in terms of their differing justifications and presuppositions,
  4. critique the conceptual dualism "society/nature" with respect to its implications for humans as well as non-humans, and
  5. provide an account, supported by sound argumentation, of the place of humanity in the context of a world that includes both human dwelling and natural habitats within an overall ecology.

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 percent. Students should be familiar with the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies grading system. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights associated with them.

Course Activity Weighting
Participation 20%
Discussion Paper 1 20%
Discussion Paper 2 20%
Term Paper/Website Abstract 5%
Term Paper/Website 35%
Total 100%

Course Materials

The course materials for ENVS 670: Nature, Humans and Ecology include but are not limited to the items listed below. Links to additional readings will be made available on the course website.. If you find that any items are missing from your course package, please contact the Course Materials Production department at Athabasca University as soon as possible. You may call Athabasca University, toll free, from anywhere in Canada or the United States at 1-800-788-9041 and ask to speak to someone in Course Materials Production (ext. 6366). Students in the Edmonton and Calgary dialling areas are asked to call the Learning Centres to connect with the automated attendant, and then dial the four-digit extension. You may send e-mail to cmat@athabascau.ca, or write to Course Materials Production at Tim Byrne Centre, 4001 Hwy 2 South, Athabasca AB T9S 1A4.


Ingold, Tim. (2002). The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. New York: Routledge. (Electronic resource available through the Athabasca University library.)

Latour, Bruno. (2004). Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Harvard University Press. ISBN-10: 9780674013476.

Uexküll, Jakob von, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans: with A Theory of Meaning, tr. J. D. O'Neill (Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 2010). ISBN-10: 0816659001. Electronic resource available through the Athabasca University library.)

Athabasca University Online Materials

Course Home Page You will find Course Information (including the Assignment File and other pertinent information) at the top of the course home page. You will also find your Study Guide presented unit by unit online. You will find your assignments and links to submit your work to your professor on the course home page.
Athabasca University Library: Students are encouraged to browse the Library's Web site to review the Library collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools: http://library.athabascau.ca.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 1, January 1, 2015.