Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module GEOG3NEW3: Critical Resource Geographies

Department: Geography

GEOG3NEW3: Critical Resource Geographies

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


  • Any Level 2 BA Geography module


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Develop a critical understanding of the social processes through which a variety of ‘natural resources’ (oil, gold, timber, river systems, carbon sequestration capacity) are constituted as objects of economic and political strategy
  • Understand how logics of economisation, securitisation, territorialisation and modernisation construct lived landscapes and environments as ‘standing reserves’ of materials, to be controlled, calculated and harnessed in relation to anticipated futures; and how, as consequence, enacting landscapes as resources is central to the reproduction of economic and political power.
  • Show how natures (of various kinds) are incorporated into systems of appropriation, valuation, transformation and disposal; and how these processes of ‘resource-making’ transform socio-ecological life.
  • Enable appreciation and application of key concepts in critical resource geography, including the core notion of ‘resource-making’ and allied ideas about the resource imaginary, materiality and temporality.
  • Engage critically with contemporary social, economic and political issues surrounding resource control, extraction and trade.


  • In the first two decades of the 21st century, more natural resources have been extracted from the earth than at any other time in human history. The scale and pace of resource mobilisation is unprecedented, and a major driver of social and environmental problems including biodiversity loss, threats to indigenous peoples and climate change. But what are ‘natural resources’, and how are they separated – legally, physically, discursively – from surrounding environments to become the object of economic and political strategy?
  • ‘Natural resources’ is a deceptively peaceable term with widespread application in human geography. By convention, a natural resource describes an attribute of nature that satisfies human wants: classic examples of nature-as-a-resource include mineral ores, timber, and water. However, the term is also a superb example of modernist misdirection: attributed to nature—and so given the appearance of objective fact—natural resources reflect a profoundly anthropocentric perspective that values the constitutive capacities of non-humans in the world only in terms of their utility in meeting human needs.
  • This module takes students into the growing subfield of critical resource geography to examine how the everyday notion of ‘natural resources’ is deeply problematic. It explores the distinctions and differentiations enabled by the category ‘resources,’ such as between productive, valued assets, and unproductive ‘wastes’. It considers how these distinctions have their origins in the revolution of socionatural relations associated with the emergence of capitalism; how they play a key role in organising contemporary society; and it unpacks the ideological, political, and economic work that must be done to transform nature into a resource. The orientation of the module is that of critical social science: it reveals how “natural resources” are not naturally resources, by focusing on the social processes (knowledge, control, power) through which natural resources are made into objects of economic and political strategy. Key arguments are illustrated through examples of historic and contemporary resource-making episodes in the global North and South, and will cover a wide range of different resources from classic cases such as fish, timber, water and oil to diverse materials like uranium, aluminium, lithium and various types of trash.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of this module, students will be able to
  • Demonstrate an advanced level understanding of resource-making practices in the Global North and South
  • Critically evaluate the consequences of naming, calculating and managing socio-ecological relations through the lens of ‘natural resources’
  • Understand and deploy a range of concepts and theoretical perspectives for analysing the role of natural resources in sustaining economic and political power
  • Appreciate and apply ideas from the growing body of work in the sub-disciplne of critical resources
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Think critically and creatively about ‘natural resources’ in ways that denaturalise them as objective facts
  • Identify and evaluate the practices through which natural resources are made and sustained as objects of economic and political strategy
  • Evaluate and think with key concepts and approaches from critical resource geography • Identify ways in which a geographical approach to the topic may yield fresh insights
Key Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate written 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 synthesize diverse information and develop an understanding of contemporary issues and problems.

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

  • The main contact hours will be (a) lectures, supplemented with film and video materials; (b) a data-driven workshop involving group work; and (c) a feedback workshop in advance of the summative.
  • Formative assessment (annotated plan of report) will allow tailored, individual feedback on a) the integration of theoretical and substantive literatures; b) the types of material to be used in the report and c) styles of report presentation. Feedback will be individual via written feedback on an annotated plan of the report, and will also be discussed collectively in a dedicated feedback workshop.
  • Summative assessment (report) will require students to give a critical account of resource-making practices in relation to a specific empirical context (chosen through discussion with the module convenor). The five page report will integrate ideas and concepts from lectures with materials gathered by the student through research of secondary literature.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 8 Approx weekly 1.5 hours 12
Workshop 1 2 hours 2
Feedback workshop 1 End of module 2 hours 2
Self-directed Learning 84
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5 pages A4 100%

Formative Assessment:

Written feedback on an annotated plan of the report, plus discussion of the plan and feedback in the end of module feedback workshop.

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