Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2014-2015 (archived)

Module ANTH45115: Art in Ecological Perspective

Department: Anthropology

ANTH45115: Art in Ecological Perspective

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2014/15 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • The course aims to familiarize students with a range of theoretical perspectives and ethnographic case studies on the relation between art/material culture and ecology, thereby acheiving two main goals:
  • 1) Exploring human knowledge and perception of the environment through the lens of art and material culture.
  • 2) Questioning the trend in Western modernity to place art, aesthetics and other abstract areas of interest outside the realm of the every day, thus placing art back into the realm of everyday life.


  • The course offers a novel approach to the study of the relationship between human societies and their environment. It explores dialogues between human beings and nature through the perspective of art and material culture. Building on current debates both in Anthropology and in other disciplines, the course provides analytical tools to study art objects as mediating the reltionship between human beings, animals, plants and the landscape. In so doing, during the course we discussnotions of ecology, vision, skills, materiality, personhool and sociality.
  • Although exact topics may vary from year to year, because of the growing number of studies in the field, the course might cover such areas as:
  • Pre-historical perspectives on the development of human art.
  • Communication, vision and ecology.
  • The link between dreams, ancestors and landscape.
  • hunting and mimesis.
  • The materiality of sailing.
  • The relation between objects and organisms.
  • Weaving.
  • The materiality of death and memory.
  • Commoditization.
  • Environmental art.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Gain an understanding of classic and recent debates in the anthropology of art and material culture and human-environment relations.
  • Appreciate a wide body of the ethnographic studies of art and material culture both in western and non-Western societies.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Develop intellectual and methodical skills to plan and carry out an individual research on an art topic from an ecological perspective.
  • Ability to critically evaluate and apply anthropology of art and material culture theory to a range of environmental issues.
Key Skills:
  • Ability to engage critically with both theory and ethnography.
  • Ability to communicate clearly in both oral and written forma

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Mode of Teaching and Learning:
  • This is an intensive seminar-based course. Teaching staff will introduce key issues, provide theoretical perspectives and draw on ethnographic case studies. Students will prepare by reading the material suggested on the course outline, which they will discuss during seminars. Seminar discussions will provide an opportunity to evaluate critically and assess a range of approaches on the anthropological study of art and material culture. Students will prepare individual and group presentations engaging with current debates and research and will gain practice in presenting relevant materials to others and in learning collaboratively. Furthermore they will engage in preliminary research on an art topic of their choice that will form the basis of their formative assessment.
  • Assessment:
  • Summative assessment consists of an essay of 3,000 words. The essay topic will be chosen specifically to encourage students to engage with both the theoretical approaches discussed throughout the course and a wide range of ethnographic case studies. Formative assessment consists of a research proposal of 1,500 words. Students will conduct some preliminary research documenting an event of their choice with bearing on the relation between art and ecology. Building on their research the proposal should identify a clear problem, raise a number of research questions and discuss the relevant literature. Informal feedback on student presentations / discussions within seminars will also help students to sharpen their communication and critical evaluation skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Every 1-2 wks 1.5h 12
Preparation & Reading 138
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

1000 word Book review

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University