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MPhil specialising in Environmental Humanities

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Overview

AXL09 | 180–210 NQF credits
Programme Convener: Prof. L Green

The MPhil specialising in Environmental Humanities comprises two core courses, which are compulsory, plus two (or more) electives from the approved list. Students are required to complete two compulsory courses, a minor dissertation and a minimum of two elective courses of which no more than two can be at HEQSF level 8 (4000 level).

Core courses

Course Credits
Earth, Ecology, Humanities Course description 26
Researching the Anthropocene Course description 24
Minior Dissertation 96

All courses HEQSF Level 9.

Electives

Course Credits
Action, Resistance, Alternatives Course description 12
Adult Learning for Social Change  Course description 30
Advanced Development Theories Course description 12
African Environmental History* Course description 24
Arts of Space 23
Biodiversity and Climate Change  Course description 15
Climate Law and Governance  Course description 15
Critical Perspectives on the Bio-Economy  Course description 23
Cultural Criticism, Non-Fiction and the Essay: Creative Writing Workshop Course description 24
Decolonial Theory* Course description 15
Environmental Conflicts: Special Topics Course description  24
Environmental Documentary* Course description 24
Environmental Law for Non-Lawyers  Course description 15
Film and the Environment* Course description 24
Geography, Development and Environment**  Course description 18
GPNs Development and Decent Work  Course description 12
Imagining Southern Cities  Course description 23
Introduction to Climate Change and Sustainable Development  Course description 23
Land and Agrarian Question*  Course description 24
Language Ecology – Exploring Intersections  Course description 24
The Meat of the Matter: Food, Gender and Planetary Health 24
Policy and Governance*  Course description 30
Race and Relationality in Afro-European Literature* Course description 24
Rethinking Africa's Development Course description 24
Science, Nature, Democracy Course description 24
Society and Natural Resources Course description 12
Theorising Justice From the South Course description 12
Urban Food Security*  Course description 30
Water, Society, Ecology Course description 24

All courses HEQSF Level 9, unless marked *HEQSF Level 8 or ** NQF Level 5.

Subject to approval by the Head of Section, an elective offered by a cognate department may replace one or more of the listed electives. Candidates are required to participate in the Section’s weekly research seminar.

Course descriptions

Action, Resistance, Alternatives

Course convenor: B Tame | Course code: SOC5013S

The World Social Forum and many social movements and other organisations organise and mobilise around the slogan: “Another world is possible”. This course examines key features of working-class experience in the context of globalisation. It examines the development of unions, social movements and protest action, focusing on the collective responses of the ‘discontents’ of globalisation. The central concern is acts and processes of resistance in the context of recurring capitalist crises and visions of alternative central to that resistance. Through a focus on selected organisations, events and issues, the course aims to contextualise and historicise working-class resistance in the lived experience of globalisation and examine major debates within and about such resistance. Particular attention will be paid to issues of alienation and commodification in the struggle for alternatives in everyday life. Specific examples are drawn from recent South African history while the issues and questions are explored in the global context in which they exist.

Adult Learning for Social Change

Course convenor: TBA | Course code: EDN5503FS

The course provides an advanced introduction to key theoretical perspectives on adult learning and knowledge-production, where learning is directed primarily towards social change. The focus is on informal contexts of learning such as social movements, community development projects, the labour movement, arts/cultural work, and health education. Close attention is paid to the ways in which 'adult learning' and 'adult learners' fit and contest theoretical debates concerning 'intellectuals', and theoretical debates concerning 'everyday life' and 'social reproduction'. Theoretical resources will be drawn from feminist, radical pedagogy, postcolonial and cultural studies traditions.

Advanced Development Theories

Course convenor: N Mabandla | Course code: SOC5010F

The course examines influential theories of development and their relationship to colonialism and global capitalism. The course emphasises historical context and ethnographic approaches for understanding the contemporary period, particularly the postcolonial developmental state.

African Environmental History 

Course convenor: Assoc. Prof. L van Sittert | Course code: HST4016F

This course examines Africa within the discipline of environmental history. It reviews a series of linked themes covering the period from pre-colonial to contemporary African history. Themes covered include environment and pre-colonial state formation, the colonial environmental impact, hunting, conservation, the colonial history of environmental science, colonialism and environmental catastrophism, development and environment and history of environmental impact assessment.

Biodiversity and Climate Change

Course convenor: Dr L Gilson | Course code: BIO5003Z | Cross-faculty elective offered through UCT Faculty of Science.

This course module provides an overview of long-term climactic change over geological, glacial-interglacial and millennial timescales. It will consider the interactions between climate change, evolution and plant distribution up to the present day, and consider species responses to climate change, including effects on physiology and distribution. Niche modelling and its application in the conservation of birds will be discussed. Dynamic Global Vegetation Models will be explored, as will the interactions between climate, disturbance and land use change. The impacts of climate change on ecosystem services for example water availability, food security, energy and coastal resources will be discussed.

Climate Law and Governance

Course convenor: Prof. J Glazewski | Course code: PBL5046S | Cross-faculty electives offered through UCT Faculty of Law.

NB: Course not offered in 2021.

The phenomenon of climate change poses major challenges to the international community of nations, the African continent, and the South African body politic. Meeting these challenges requires among other things an inter-disciplinary approach and finding interconnectedness between the natural and social sciences. This course will provide postgraduate students with an insight into principles of international law, regional law and South African national law of relevance to climate change. Key content covered in the course includes: an introduction to basic international and domestic legal principles and institutions; environmental governance systems and theories; and an introduction to various branches of the law relevant to climate change such as energy law, planning and environmental impact assessment law; natural resource law (biodiversity, protected areas, water and marine living resources), pollution laws (marine, fresh water, land and air pollution) and fiscal law (in the context of climate financing).

Critical Perspectives on the Bio-Economy

Course convenor: Prof. R Wynberg | Course code: EGS5058FS | Cross-faculty electives offered through UCT Faculty of Science.

Located at the interface of fast-changing genetic and information technologies, and the juncture of a range of social, environmental and ethical concerns, the so-called bio-economy has changed fundamentally ways in which biodiversity is used, conserved and commercialised. Although often touted as a panacea for energy crises, livelihoods, environmental remediation and food security, critical questions have been raised about who stands to benefit, the involvement of local communities, and economic and political drivers behind the bio-economy "push". Using a political ecology framing, this interdisciplinary course aims to introduce key theories that situate the bio-economy and to deepen understandings about the nature of emerging debates. These range from contestations about genetically modified crops, and 'biopiracy' charges of patenting biodiversity and traditional knowledge, through to the potential of agroecology as an alternative agricultural future. The course aims to deepen critical thinking around these questions, and to inspire a scholarship that explores possibilities for socially just and environmentally sustainable approaches, with a particular focus on the Global South. The course involves both theory and practice, drawing on research mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa. Students will be expected to read set texts, to watch set videos, and to prepare seminars. The course includes a short field trip.

Cultural Criticism, Non-Fiction and the Essay: Creative Writing Workshop 

Convenor: Assoc. Prof. N Davids and Assoc. Prof. H Twidle  | Course code: ELL5046FS

This is a writing-intensive seminar for both ‘academic’ and ‘creative’ writers – a division that we will try to unravel in interesting ways as we explore how critical, academic and intellectual work can take shape in more creative forms and public voices. We will use contemporary essays, creative criticism and literary non-fiction to generate our own writing tasks. Students will also be required to write two stand-alone essays (on subjects of their own choice) and to keep a semester-long reading journal. Some writing exercises might include: reviewing imaginary books; using ‘found’ materials and tracing the lives of objects; working within artificial constraints; linking image, music and text; walking in the city and representing space; interviewing and telling the stories of others; researching biographical profiles and portraits; writing art and music journalism; exploring filmic, photo and documentary ‘essays’. The primary aim of the seminar is to prepare students to write for a wider audience than that of conventional academic writing, and to allow them the space to experiment with ‘voice’ in this sense. It aims to foster a public kind of criticism, and to train students to become reviewers, cultural commentators and arts journalists both within and beyond the 21st-century academy. 

Decolonial Theory

Course convenor: Z Msomi | Course code: AXL4206S

This course considers the growing body of thought from Latin America under the heading ‘decolonial theory’, and exemplified in the works of Walter Mignolo, Arturo Escobar, Enrique Dussel, Santiago Castro-Gomez, Nelson Maldonado-Torres and Anibal Quijano. This work has been significant in framing an approach to questions of knowledge, coloniality and globalisation that attempts to re-write the script of modernity (as colonial modernity) and that provides rich conceptual resources through which to re-think familiar issues. The course takes a key-word approach. Each two-week block considers a distinct set of key words or concepts and texts that introduce and discuss them. They include Coloniality (of power/knowledge/being); Geopolitics of knowledge; Colonial globality and global designs; Border theory and colonial difference; Modernity (colonial modernity, peripheral modernity, transmodernity); Global designs and the local; The Indigenous Movement and postcolonial ethnicities. Approaching decolonial theory from the perspective of the Cape, the course asks: How might a critique based on South/Latin American historical experiences translate to African contexts? How does it speak to the particularity of knowledge production and colonial engagement in the Cape? How does it connect with contemporary African Studies debates addressing questions of knowledge and epistemology?

Earth, Ecology, Humanities

Course convenor: Assoc. Prof. H Twidle | Course code: ELL5042F

The environmental humanities is the term for a dynamic and growing field in universities across the world, one promoting interdisciplinary scholarship that explores how we understand the relations between humans and the environment in all areas of cultural production. It ranges from social justice movements to the creative arts, from questions of scientific modelling to the language of government policy. In this course, we will ask how a critical, politically aware environmental consciousness of the South might be brought forth in the public sphere. What, after all, do we mean when we speak of the environment? This seminar considers the rich and difficult terrain where questions of ecological thought and environmental science interact with the humanities: with sociology, anthropology, history, imaginative writing, film, critical theory and the creative arts. This is a co-taught course, with modules including but not limited to: Environmentalism, public science writing and narrative non-fiction; Slow violence, development and the challenge of deep time; Imagining the deep ocean; The militarisation of conservation; The commons debate; Landscape and the gaze; Visual art from Arcadia to Apocalypse; Art and extinction; Capitalism in the web of life; Carbon democracy questions of infrastructure; The political economy of food in the global South; Petro-cultures and the oil encounter in West Africa; Extraction and the poetics of resistance; Film and environment in a new age; Environmental narrative and the media.

Environmental Conflicts: Special Topics

Course convenor: Assoc. Prof. L van Sittert | Course code: HST5005S 

NB: Course not offered in 2021.

Environmental Conflicts: Special Topics offers the opportunity to develop an in-depth understanding of contemporary conflicts around the environment. To do so, it will draw on contemporary scholarship across a wide range of disciplines in the Humanities, Law, and Health, Life and Earth Sciences, and engage researchers, activists and stakeholders in campus dialogues. Its goal is to seed new research interests in the humanities by opening up public and transdisciplinary conversations on critical issues relating to decision-making in ecologies of households and cities, and at national and global levels. The seminars will draw on a range of printed and electronic sources, experts, policy debates, student seminars and field visits to enrich our understanding of these issues.

Environmental Documentary

Course convenor: Dr I Rijsdijk | Course code: FAM4015S

This course consists of an analytical and historical examination of environmental and ecological documentary and a fieldwork component. We will examine some of the major works of and trends in Environmental and Ecological Criticism, ranging from Thoreau, Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson through to David Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth and debates around climate change. The course will emphasise how the environmental movement has interacted with and influenced wildlife documentary, particularly in South African productions. Students will be expected to read widely in environmental literature and watch a wide range of film and television documentary. For the fieldwork project, students will prepare and present a project for approval. Ideally, the project should involve group work producing a trans-media project in collaboration with a UCT or local environmental group or students. Students will be able to work in various forms of documentary from print to photography to video or sound and should produce a project that draws on the strengths of various media. The final project should be a substantial piece of work that will be published online.

Environmental Law for Non-Lawyers

Course convenor: Prof. A Paterson | Course code: PBL5045S | Cross-faculty electives offered through UCT Faculty of Law.

NB: Course not offered in 2021.

The inclusion of an environmental right in South Africa's Constitution has led to the emergence of many environmental laws and court decisions in the past 15 years. These developments are of key relevance to those working in the environmental sector including developers, consultants, biologists, zoologists, planners, sociologists and anthropologists. This course provides students undertaking postgraduate studies relevant to the environment with an insight into relevant principles of international and domestic environmental law. Key content covered in the course includes: an introduction to basic legal principles and resources; constitutional aspects (environmental rights, access to information, administrative justice and access to courts); framework environmental laws; land-use planning laws (planning law, environmental impact assessment and protected areas); natural resource laws (biodiversity, water and marine living resources); and pollution laws (fresh water, land and air pollution).

Film and Environment

Course convenor: Dr I Rijsdijk | Course code: FAM4036S

This course examines several debates concerning the representation of the natural environment in narrative fiction and documentary film. Taking the ecocritical debate that has grown in scope and intensity in literary criticism since the early 1980s as a departure point, the course will investigate the value of this discourse and its applicability to films that either explicitly or implicitly use the natural environment as a key component of the film narrative. Equally important is the analysis of the films in terms of film language, and the extent to which film produces original representations of environmental debates that characterise the current age. In this second aspect of the course lies the history of the natural environment in film (its place in well-established and popular genres like the Western, for example), as well as the representation of people in relation to the nonhuman environment in environmental documentary. The course includes a practical exercise in which students will produce a visual artefact that applies the idea of the course to local situations.

GPNs Development and Decent Work

Course convenor: Dr A Benya | Course code: SOC5034S

This course will explore mainstream and alternative ideas and theories that have shaped Global Production Networks (GPNs) discourse. In the context of GPNs, and from a Global South perspective, we will grapple with a number of unresolved debates concerning decent work and development. Global shift in production and consumption trends, 'new' employment regimes, trade union strategies, and collective resistance will be discussed.

Geography, Development and Environment

Course convenor: Dr P Mbatha | Course code: EGS1003S | Cross-faculty electives offered through UCT Faculty of Science.

The course introduces students to development and environment debates in geography, by exploring the geography of third world development, focusing on the historical roots and spatial patterns that underpin development. There is a compulsory fieldwork component involving half-day field excursions.

Imagining Southern Cities

Course convenors: Dr S Daya and Dr R Sitas | Course code: EGS5056FS | Cross-faculty electives offered through UCT Faculty of Science.

The global South is urbanising at roughly twice the rate of the global North, yet dominant narratives of 'the city' continue to privilege London, Los Angeles and Paris over Lagos, Johannesburg and Mumbai. This course explores how cities of the global South are generating new bodies of theory, new forms of social life, and new imaginaries. It does this through novels, films and other textual and visual representations of everyday urbanism, drawing on contemporary theory from the global South to help make sense of these discourses. Situated in the rapidly evolving field of Urban Studies, the course aims to open up conversations across disciplines about the cities we are in and the cities we desire. Students will be expected to read set texts, both fictional and theoretical, and watch set films in preparation for classes, which will take the form of weekly, student-led seminars.

Introduction to Climate Change and Sustainable Development

Course convenor: Dr M Norton | Course code: EGS5031F | Cross-faculty electives offered through UCT Faculty of Science.

This course provides a broad, integrated, knowledge on key issues in climate change and sustainable development, making students conversant across the spectrum of climate change issues and history. Topics covered include: sustainable development; the climate system, anthropogenic forcing and climate system response; African climate variability and change; international climate change legal frameworks, negotiations, and politics; the economics of climate change and climate change financing; the concept of climate compatible development. The course is lecture, seminar and group- work based. Each section of the course will involve basic framing lectures, supported by either an essay exercise or a group work exercise and seminar.

Land and Agrarian Question

Course convenor: Prof. H Chitonge | Course code: AXL4209FS

The prevalence of large-scale land acquisition in the context of rising food prices since the 2008/09 financial and economic crisis has brought the issues of land and land use in Africa into the spotlight. As a result, land and agrarian matters in Africa are increasingly having a direct bearing on broader issues, including food security, environmental sustainability, economic growth, social and political stability, social justice and rural livelihoods. By introducing the land and agrarian questions in Africa, this course critically examines the different dimensions of land, including patterns of land ownership, types of land tenure, land reform types, issues of tenure security, means of accessing land, land administration structures and institutions forms of land use, and the challenges (and opportunities?) posed by the current large-scale land acquisitions in different African communities. The course will draw examples from selected countries on the African continent. This course examines these dimensions of the land and agrarian questions in Africa in both their historical and contemporary contexts.

Language Ecology – Exploring Intersections

Course convenor: Prof. A Deumert | Course code: AXL5323FS

Language ecology (sometimes also called eco-linguistics) is the study of how languages interact with one another and the larger environment in which they are spoken/written/signed. It is a paradigm that is especially well-suited to understanding the challenges of the contemporary world and that allows linguists to contribute to the social sciences more broadly.

Policy and Governance

Course convenor: Dr Z Patel | Course code: EGS4047FS | Cross-faculty electives offered through UCT Faculty of Science.

This course looks at the underlying dynamics involved in the negotiation of environmental policy and its implementation. The assumption here is that unsustainable outcomes are not a result of a lack of will or intention but rather due to vastly varying values, knowledge and data that are brought to bear on decision making for the environment. The approach of this course is to challenge the ‘cultural embeddedness’ of policy, i.e. it critiques the cultural processes underlying environmental policy. A deeper understanding of the cultural politics of environmental policy and practice will deal with the processes through which institutions define and mediate policy outcomes; governance arrangements for sustainable development; the roles of power, rationality, knowledge and values in achieving environmental and social justice.

Race and Relationality in Afro-European Literature

Course convenor: Dr P Moji | Course code: ELL4036F

This elective engages with black phenomenology outside the habitual American and African contexts, through a study of Afrodiasporic narratives set in Europe. Noting the 'silent racialisations' behind the European dogma of colour-blindness, the course problematises categories such as 'migrant' vs. 'Afro-European' by the examining different constructions of race on the continent, which are often contingent on different colonial histories and waves of migration The course is equally weighted between literary and theoretical texts, with students being exposed to narratives in or translated into English from diverse geographical locations alongside theoretical texts that explore race, relationality and black geographies. Students acquire the principles of analysing translated texts, comparative approaches to literary critique and develop conceptual ease with a phenomenological approach to narrative.

Researching the Anthropocene

Course convenors: Dr N Solomon | Course code: AXL5414S

The term “Anthropocene”, taken up by geologists to describe the era in which the effects of collective human action have become “significant on the scale of Earth history”, compels a rethinking of the divides between the human sciences and the natural sciences. The implication: not only are conceptual divisions between society and nature to be rethought, but that new approaches to research are needed to speak to the challenges of comprehending the interconnections of human life, earth systems, and species. This course offers an introduction to research methods that are needed in order to bring these interconnectivities and parts and wholes, into public life and decision-making. Building on current conversations across the south on the engagement of decolonial literatures and the post-humanities, this course explores the research methods proposed by leading scholars in these fields.

Rethinking Africa's Development

Course convenor: Prof. H Chitonge | Course code: AXL5205FS

This course looks at the various development approaches and theories adopted by African states at different times. The course examines some of the most influential theories of development which emerged in the context of the post-Second World War situation focusing on how these theories have been used in Africa. In examining the different development theories, the course also investigates how Africans have responded to these theories. The course examines the question of whether African countries need to rethink these approaches and theories. Emerging views about Africa's development trajectory are also discussed. Critical questions about whether Africa can achieve sustainable economic growth and development by deploying conventional development and economic growth theory are discussed.

Science, Nature, Democracy

Course convenor: Prof. L Green | Course code: AXL5408F 

NB: Course not offered in 2021.

This course focuses on the relationship between science and governance, drawing on current debates in science studies about the mediation of different versions of nature, truth and world in a democracy. Whether those concerns arise in relation to different disciplinary knowledges, the interests of capital, religious or indigenous movements, or between scientists and parliamentarians, the production of evidentiaries and procedures for verification are a central concern in decision- making in contemporary public life. The course explores the unstable knowledge terrain where state, science, publics and capital meet, with the goal of developing insight into the mistranslations and incomprehensions that occur, and to explore options that might resolve them. Building on emerging work on scholarly diplomacy in the scientific humanities, with a particular interest on science studies in the south, the course focuses on emerging strategies of mediation, equivocation, translation and contestation that are part of democratic processes and activism.

Society and Natural Resources

Course convenor: M Pressend | Course code: SOC5011S

This course examines the intersection of society, natural resources management and development practice from a social science perspective. The course links an academic training in developmental sociology to the needs of non-profit organisations within the environmental sector in Cape Town. As part of the course, students undertake a short-term review of NPOs, government agencies or private sector organisations located within the Cape Town metropolitan area as a means for them to develop an understanding of the ‘real world’ challenges in policy and practice.

Theorising Justice From the South

Course convenor: Dr R Chaturvedi | Course code: SOC5059FS

This course will focus on responses of various judicial and state institutions and civil and political society to experiences of injustice and inequality in different parts of the postcolonial world – especially Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Students will be trained to glean understandings of a just world, freedom, self and community that underlie their institutional and discursive interventions, interrogate as well as draw upon them as conceptual resources. They will hence be prepared to undertake the work of generating new theories of justice and equality that abide by the social and political life of the global South and offer more inclusive, rich and democratic normative content than the prevailing paradigms.

Urban Food Security

Course convenor: Assoc. Prof. J Battersby | Course code: EGS4039FS | Cross-faculty electives offered through UCT Faculty of Science.

Topics include an overview of poverty and urbanisation in Southern Africa; urban food security, methods and issues; urban poverty and vulnerability debates; food security and health; managing urban food systems (ecological, regulatory and fiscal dynamics).

Water, Society, Ecology

Course convenor: N Solomon | Course code: AXL5417FS

This cross-institutional course aims to improve student understandings of social and ecological dilemmas around water, and water-related infrastructures. The goal is to support graduates capacity to think with liquid flows around hard surfaces; urban chemistries; multiple species, and the historical-political legacies of infrastructure and design, in order to work towards “planet- compatible”, justice-based infrastructure interventions. This course also probes how we can build better collaborative practices across North-South divides, i.e. ones that are alert to histories of inequality and questions of environmental justice. It thus includes comparisons and discussions about ongoing relations at human-land-water interfaces in different hemispheres. To this end, the course is both transdisciplinary – to prepare students to reach beyond traditional disciplines – and hemispheric – to facilitate, in a teaching context, a stronger understanding of north-south concerns and dialogics.

Handbooks

See current handbooks of all UCT faculties for more information and details on the courses.

Admissions

Academic requirements

Students must have graduated (minimum of 65% GPA) with either:

  • An Honours degree or equivalent in literature, fine arts, philosophy and / or social sciences, or
  • A relevant Honours degree (or equivalent) that has given them a background in the creative and performing arts, sciences, planning, engineering, economics, education, or law.
  • Mid-career candidates with Bachelors degrees and substantial relevant experience may apply for "Recognition of Prior Learning" (RPL) in place of the Honours degree. 

Admission requirements

Faculty admission requirements as set out under Rule FM3 apply. Refer to the current Humanities Handbook available on UCT Handbooks .

Programme admission requirements apply. Students must have graduated (minimum of 65% GPA) with either:

  • an Honours degree or equivalent in literature, fine arts, philosophy and/or social sciences, or
  • a relevant Honours degree (or equivalent) that has given them a background in the creative and performing arts, sciences, planning, engineering, economics, education, or law. Such applications must be accompanied by a writing sample and a letter of motivation; these are to be assessed by a selection committee.

How to apply

  • Applications are made via the UCT Online Applications portal . The MPhil degree code is HLM041AXL09.
  • To apply, you will need a CV, a transcript, a one or two page(s) research concept note and a writing sample. 
  • Please email Vivienne Toleni: vivienne.toleni@uct.ac.za to advise that your application is submitted.

For further information, please email EHS MPhil Programme Coordinator Nikiwe Solomon: nikiwe.solomon@uct.ac.za.

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