Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module ANTH44630: Context and Challenges in Energy and Society

Department: Anthropology

ANTH44630: Context and Challenges in Energy and Society

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to enable students to consider energy and society through time, from energy histories to energy futures
  • To explore global geo-histories of energy and energy transitions using archaeologies and histories of energy
  • To explore the socio-politics of energy today from a variety of perspectives, including social, political, economic, and the use of energy in global geopolitics


  • The module covers two main themes in energy and society, energy histories and trajectories, and contemporary socio-politics of energy. Part one explore global geo-histories of energy using archaeologies and histories of energy to highlight the changing concepts of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ energy; varieties of energy technology, from low to high-tech and from local to distributed; varieties of energy technologies and the broad ranging impacts of energy management. The module will trace the histories of particular energy technologies and their social imbrications (e.g. animal traction, swidden biomass systems, water, coal, oil, solar, etc) through extended case studies. Part two explores the contemporary political economies of energy, the politics of energy generation and distribution, the role of energy as a geopolitical tool, conflicts over global warming, energy wars and energy transitions. The module addresses social, political, policy, economic, scientific and technological challenges facing societies today, their interconnections in global energy and climate change contexts, and the specific challenges in particular societies to address potentials for sustainable energy. The module will coordinate with engineering modules, incuding input from DEI members to consider current developments in energy generation, distribution and consumption and the socio-technical challenges these raise. This core compulsory module takes a social sciences approach to energy technology, which includes socio-technical analysis, sociological and anthropological perspectives. Assessment is by extended essay, based on the analysis and theorisation of case studies. Students recruited from engineering sciences may have little experience of essay-based assessment, and guidance will be integrated into the seminar and tutorial elements of the course to focus on study and communication skills. Students will be required to produce interim outlines for formative assessment.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will have, by the end of the module:
  • an advanced understanding of the global history of energy transitions.
  • an advanced understanding of the socio-cultural contect of energy processes and challenges.
  • an advanced understanding of the socio-technical implications of different energy sources, management regimes and technologies.
  • an in-depth understanding of non-technological implications of diverse energy sources, and thier position in the interaction between technology and society, and their connections to users, persons and communities.
  • an understanding of the methodologies available to analyse energy and society.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will be able, by the end of the module:
  • to identify historical trajectories of diverse energy technologies
  • to employ a range of theoretical approaches to understanding energy and society and the user-interface
  • to identify potential uses of energy in social, political and economic contexts, including gender dimensions
  • to analyse potential impacts of energy developments and evaluate the arguments around particular energy debates, including euro-centricism
  • to identify, evaluate and employ sources for further research and analysis of energy debates
Key Skills:
  • Students will be able, by the end of the module:
  • to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of energy in comparative human history
  • to demonstrate an ability to pursue further research on the socio-historical and contemporary implications of changing energy practices in an interdisciplinary framework
  • to demonstrate an ability to construct argument critically for both oral and written presentation from different sources of material, including material delivered orally and in an article, report or policy document.
  • to use sophisticated techniques of information retrieval and management using an array of print and digital resources.
  • to formulate complex arguments in articulate and structured English, within the discursive conventions and genres of academic writing and written to high academic standard

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

  • Module delivery will employ a combination of preparatory directed reading, a 5 day intensive learning event and a period of further guided reading, reflection and essay writing. Introductory reading and teaching material will be made available through the online learning environment for student-led learning. Full-time attending students will also attend tutorials and seminars, and submit work for cumulative assessment. Students will be assessed through an extended essay.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Preparation and reading Term 1 180
Seminars and tutorials 4 Term 1 2 hours 8
Intensive teaching and learning event 1 Term 1 5 days 30
Follow-up reading and essay preparation Term 1 82
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Assessment Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seminar presentations 2000 words 20% No
Extended essay 5000 words 80% No

Formative Assessment:

Essay plan 1500 words

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