Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)


Department: Geography


Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • Any Level 2 Geography Module


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To encourage critical reflection on the deployment of the term/idea/discourse of ‘emergency’ in relation to a range of contemporary events and situations (such as terrorism, financial crises, and trans-species epidemics)
  • To promote understanding of the politics of emergency in relation to a range of actual and potential events (including 7/7, Swine Flu and Hurricane Katrina)
  • To apply and evaluate a range of concepts and theoretical approaches for making sense of processes of ‘governing through emergency’


  • Along with linked terms such as crisis, disaster, and catastrophe, a wide range of events have been described as emergencies and steps taken to prevent them or respond to them. Examples include a set of well known events that supposedly demand an urgent response: Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, Swine Flu, and the Financial Crisis, to name only some of the most obvious. But a more widespread, low level, preparation for emergencies is constantly ongoing as governments anticipate how events might disrupt, damage or destroy life. The course aims to understand how ‘emergencies’ are anticipated and responded to. It will focus on differences in how liberal-democratic societies are governed in terms of emergency, paying close attention to issues around the politics of emergencies and drawing in-depth on a range of theories and concepts. Part One will focus on how emergencies are anticipated. Part Two on how emergencies – once they occur or have been declared – are governed. Both Parts will draw from research on the boundaries between political geography and cultural geography, engaging in particular with contemporary geographical research on spaces of (in)security.
  • Part One: Anticipating Emergencies
  • Liberal-Democratic Societies and the Normalisation of Emergency
  • Knowing Events: Calculation, Imagination, Performance
  • Preemption, Precaution and other Anticipatory Logics
  • Preparedness and Planning for the Event of Emergency
  • Part Two: Governing through Emergency
  • Emergency Response and the ‘Interval’ of Emergency
  • Exceptionalism and its discontents
  • The After-Lives of Emergencies
  • The Politics of Emergency

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
  • Critically appraise the deployment of the term/idea/discourse of ‘emergency’ in relation to financial crises, terrorism, trans-species epidemics, and a range of other events and situations
  • Demonstrate advanced level understanding of the links between processes of ‘governing through emergency’ and the State and other political actors
  • Critically reflect on a range of concepts and theoretical approaches for understanding how life in liberal-democratic societies is governed through emergency
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
  • Evaluate and apply key concepts and theoretical approaches to contemporary problems and issues
  • Think critically and creatively about the ethics and politics of response to events and the role of geographical knowledge in that response
Key Skills:
  • On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate a variety of communication skills
  • Demonstrate a capacity to reflect critically and creatively on the relations between concepts and a range of real world problems and issues
  • Demonstrate the ability to synthesise information and develop an argument on contemporary issues and problems

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

  • Core lecture content will a) introduce various concepts and theories for thinking about emergency and b) be anchored in original case studies, including but not limited to: austerity measures and financial crises; humanitarian emergencies; war, terrorism and insurgency; infectious disease outbreaks; and extreme weather events such as flooding. Each lecture will be enlivened by a number of small group tasks designed to provide the opportunity for student engagement, interaction and feedback
  • Workshops focused on key debates around a) anticipating emergencies and b) governing through emergencies. Whilst anchored in key readings, these will be set up to encourage engagement with the arguments surrounding the politics of emergency. The workshops may involve staging debates, role play or presentations. The form of the workshops will be decided upon in dialogue with the students taking the course
  • The formative assessment will develop students ability to write conscise definitions that explore the ambiguities and multiplicities of key contested terms. It will prepare students for the examination by engaging in-depth with the term/idea/discourse of emergency and related terms in the context of theoretical debates about emergency. The examination will test key knowledge surrounding how liberal-democracies govern in and through emergencies

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 8 Approx. weekly 1.5 hours 12
Workshops 2 2 hours 4
Preparation and Reading 84
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Exam Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Exam 1.5 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

Glossary of key terms and issues (max 4 sides A4). This will involve students summarising how ‘emergency’ or other key terms are deployed as a) concepts in critical theoretical and empirical work on spaces of (in)security and b) as ideas or discourses invoked by political actors in response to one real or future event

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