Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)


Department: Geography


Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Any Level 2 Geography Module


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module will engage advanced geography students in an in-depth analysis of the politics of population, examining how populations have been conceptualized and governed. Students will learn how the politics of population knot together ecological concepts, gender relations, and international geopolitics, among other dynamics. Students with a background in feminist geography, political geography, and environmental politics will advance their knowledge in these fields and expand their engagement through analysis of the politics of population.
  • The module will:
  • Theorise the concept of ‘population’ and trace the conditions of its emergence
  • Consider how the notion of ‘population’ has been used as a frame of governance in different contexts
  • Examine the impacts of both pro-natal and anti-natal politics and policies
  • Analyse the gendered and racial dimensions of population control
  • Survey geographical scholarship on population, such as work on surplus populations, social reproduction, and environmentalism and population politics


  • From the long legacies of theories of environmental degradation and overpopulation, to emerging anxieties around migration and climate change, to the challenges of ageing populations and changing demographics, the notion of ‘population’ underpins many contemporary environmental, social, and political issues. In fact, population is the pivot point through which gender, ecology, and geopolitics come together to shape responses to emerging issues. And yet the notion population itself also has a history and set of assumptions within it. This module will both analyse the history and politics of population as a concept, and explore the ways in which it has been deployed in historical and contemporary examples.
  • Themes :
  • Political and scientific genealogies of the concept of population
  • Different theorisations of ‘surplus’ population
  • Malthusianism and neo-Malthusianism
  • Climate change and reproductive politics
  • Queer theories of reproduction and futurity
  • Eugenic programs and their legacies
  • Ethno-nationalism and reproductive politics
  • International politics of population control
  • Pro-natal policies and their effects
  • The challenges of ageing populations

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of this specialized module, in addition to the module learning outcomes, students are expected to be able to:
  • Understand the social construction of ‘population’ as a tool and object of governance
  • Critically engage with a range of contemporary and historical issues to which population politics are central
  • Evaluate the roles of race, gender, and sexuality in shaping various population issues
  • Analyse population politics through different theoretical lenses
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On successful completion of this specialized module, in addition to the module learning outcomes, students are expected to be able to:
  • Demonstrate a conceptual and critical understanding of population
  • Compare and evaluate different policies and political positions regarding population
  • Critically engage with geographical scholarship on population and identify how a geographical approach to the topic may advance understandings of the stakes of population politics
Key Skills:
  • On successful completion of this specialized module, in addition to the module learning outcomes, students are expected to be able to:
  • Demonstrate the ability to synthesise and integrate knowledge and apply it to contemporary issues
  • Demonstrate ability to make arguments and communicate complex knowledge in different formats and styles
  • Demonstrate critical reflection and understanding of competing arguments and positions

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

  • Lectures will explore the historical and conceptual genealogies of ‘population’ as a concept and as a tool of government. Lectures will also elaborate on the stakes of population politics, and the ways that gender, race, ecology, and geopolitics intersect in various population ‘problems.’ The lectures will include case studies as well as opportunities for small-group discussion.
  • Seminars will focus on specific population issues in depth and will foster a collaborative learning environment where students take the lead to introduce material and ideas, and develop arguments through activities such as small-group discussion, structured debate, and other forms of active learning.
  • The ‘op-ed’ will help students develop their analysis of population politics on a topic of their choice and will give students an opportunity to practice different writing in short format for a popular audience.
  • The summative essay (on selected aspect of the course content) will help students to develop a nuanced yet convincing argument regarding the dynamics of population politics in contemporary or historical issues. They will have the opportunity to evaluate contrasting arguments and literature in a variety of sources across disciplines, in policy documents, and in media outlets. They will also consider the ability of a geographical approach to deepen analysis of the issues.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 5 Weeks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 2 hours 10
Workshops 5 Weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 2 hours 10
Reading and preparation 80
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Opinion Essay Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
‘Op-Ed’ (opinion essay) Max 2 pages A4 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay Max 4 pages A4 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative feedback in preparation for the summative assessments will be provided verbally during seminars.

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