Sociology and Criminology

Capitalism, Growth, and Ecological Crisis

Module code: L4117B
Level 6
30 credits in spring semester
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Essay

For many decades now, scholars and activists have been pointing to the apparent contradictions between the insatiable demands of a capitalist economy and the delicate balance and finite limits of ecological systems. This module explores these contradictions and the ways they are inextricably bound up with questions of cultural value, social justice, and political practice. Front and centre is the notion of economic growth, so often taken to be an unquestionable feature of a healthy economy and society. What are the roots of this attitude? Is it sustainable in the face of rapidly worsening ecological crises? What possible alternatives might there be to the growth paradigm and the political economy it supports? From different shades of ‘green growth’ through the increasingly popular – but widely contested – notion of ‘degrowth’, we will critically consider different approaches to the relationship between society and nature and to eco-politics (rooted variously in, e.g., Marxist, feminist, decolonial, and social movement literatures). Throughout, we will be concerned with the relationship between theory and practice: how does a given understanding of the causes of ecological crisis impact on political values and visions, and vice versa? We will also think critically and creatively about what all this might mean for us, in our own daily lives, existential commitments, and future projects.

Module learning outcomes

  • Critically understand how the historical development of modern capitalism is linked to ecological crises
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how ecological modes of thought challenge orthodox attitudes to economic growth
  • Critically evaluate the assumptions, concepts, and data upon which proposals for ‘green growth’ and/or ‘degrowth’ are constructed
  • Assimilate and evaluate empirical material from recent academic research which is of relevance to the theoretical and political frameworks covered on the module
  • Critically compare different theoretical and practical approaches to eco-politics
  • Demonstrate a critical appreciation of some of the key intersections between struggles for ecological and sociological justice