Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module ANTH2241: Environment, Climate, and the Anthropocene

Department: Anthropology

ANTH2241: Environment, Climate, and the Anthropocene

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Any two of the following: Health, Illness, and Society (ANTH1041), People & Cultures (ANTH1061), Human Evolution and Diversity (ANTH1091), Doing Anthropological Research (ANTH1101)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To explore anthropological perspectives on the causes and consequences of human-driven environmental and climate change
  • To develop a broad-based understanding of the Anthropocene drawing from social, health, and evolutionary sub-fields


  • The overarching theme of the module is the “Anthropocene” – the name for our new geological era shaped by human-driven impacts on planetary processes. Within this, the module explores relationships between economic, social, and political processes that over the past few centuries (some would argue millennia) have brought about significant environmental and climate change, including water, air, and soil pollution, rising temperatures and sea levels, habitat loss, displacement of peoples and non-human animals, expansion of plantation monocultures, food insecurity, and mass extinction.
  • The module introduces students to key areas of research and debate, including the historical, theoretical, and political implications of the “Anthropocene” concept itself, the relationships between “culture” and “nature” unsettled by those debates, and how anthropologists working in key thematic areas have sought to address those challenges. Students will develop a detailed understanding of how anthropologists from social, health, and evolutionary sub-fields ask and seek answers to questions about the Anthropocene, how different research traditions, agendas, and interests may (and may not) speak to one another, how they offer new perspectives on colonial forms of knowledge and scientific authority, and the value of anthropological knowledge for finding ways of living in the Anthropocene.
  • Key thematic areas will reflect wider disciplinary approaches as well as the expertise of the Anthropology department and module teaching team. Topics covered may include: climate change; environment and planetary health; energy and society; primate and biodiversity conservation; multispecies living; evolution and extinction processes; niche construction; hominin evolution and dispersal in relation to climate and how this knowledge informs contemporary conceptions of “normal variation” in climate; evolutionary theories of cooperation; human-nonhuman interaction and conservation; developmental and epigenetic impacts of environmental stressors; chemicals and pollution.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module, students will have an understanding of:
  • anthropological approaches to documenting, describing, and interpreting the causes and consequences of environmental change for humans and other species
  • key areas of thematic debate as they relate to the Anthropocene as a subject of, and context for, anthropological research and thought
  • distinctive contributions from anthropology on non-Western understandings of human-environmental relationships
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module, students will be able to:
  • identify how anthropological sub-fields approach issues of environmental and climate change and their points of intersection with and separation from socio-cultural formations
  • analyse thematic issues from social, health, and evolutionary perspectives and where possible to integrate those different perspectives
  • analyse challenges and opportunities of the Anthropocene for building human and multispecies futures that have lesser negative impact on the planet
  • develop basic familiarity with and capacity to engage in debate with concepts of ontology, pluriverse, Gaia,
  • articulate broad alternatives to a species-exceptionalist account of the Anthropocene (Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene etc.)
Key Skills:
  • By the end of the module, students will be able to:
  • demonstrate in-depth knowledge of anthropological perspectives on the Anthropocene
  • demonstrate in-depth knowledge of how anthropological epistemologies critically shape research and debate within and between sub-fields
  • demonstrate capacity to interrelate and synthesise different disciplinary perspectives
  • demonstrate in-depth knowledge of key areas of thematic debate as introduced during the module
  • demonstrate appreciation for the value and insights of field study for ethnographic and observational practices into Anthropocenic landscapes and communities

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

  • The module will be taught through lectures, seminars, film showings, and debates.
  • Content will be divided into thematic sets exploring a separate module sub-theme and its relationship with the overarching themes of the module. Each set will also have a dedicated film seminar providing an opportunity to explore those themes.
  • Lectures will help to introduce core concepts, debates, and research, as they relate to overarching and sub-themes.
  • Seminars will provide an opportunity for students to discuss and debate questions and develop a critical understanding of the taught materials and films.
  • Debates, held at the end of Michaelmas and Epiphany terms, will highlight how different sub-fields of anthropology approach issues differently while exploring potentials for collaboration and integration.
  • The summative component will require students to demonstrate their critical understanding and knowledge of the overarching theme of the module, in relation to two or more of the four sub-themes explored. Summatives will take the form of a critical essay and a critical film review.
  • The formative component will involve a summary of one of the four themes explored, reflecting on its relation to the overarching theme.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 Weekly 1 hour 20
Seminar - sub-theme 1 1 1 in Michaelmas week 5 2 hours 2
Seminar - sub-theme 2 1 1 in Michaelmas week 10 2 hours 2
Seminar - sub-theme 3 1 1 in Epiphany week 5 2 hours 2
Seminar - sub-theme 4 1 1 in Epiphany week 10 2 hours 2
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Critical film review 2000 words 40% Yes
Essay 3000 words 60% Yes

Formative Assessment:

A 500 word summary of one of the four themes explored.

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