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CHID 480 C: Special Topics: Advanced Study Of The History Of Ideas

Arctic Encounters: Indigeneity, Environmentalism, and the Politics of Knowledge

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm
MGH 288
Jason Young
Jason Young

Syllabus Description:


This course highlights the roles that different knowledge systems play in producing understandings of and responses to climate change in the Arctic. Students will gain a better understanding of how Inuit, Western scientists, political activists, corporations, and policy makers understand the environmental effects of climate change on the Arctic, and then use those understandings to engage in environmental politics. Students will explore how interepistemological discourse, which bridge these different knowledge systems, produce politics which can be simultaneously coalitional, assimilatory, and marginalizing. Although the course focuses on the Arctic as a case study, it will highlight issues of indigeneity, colonialism, knowledge production, and power that are applicable throughout the world.

Learning will be supported not only be reading and writing exercises, but also by a series of role playing and debate exercises that will force students to engage in knowledge politics themselves. The course will push students to think broadly about issues of knowledge production and politics, interepistemological dialogue, economic and environmental globalization, and ethics.


Course Description

The Arctic is experiencing a period of dramatic environmental change, in the form of warming, ice melt, a decline in permafrost, increased precipitation, and increased climatic variability and extremes. These changes in the physical environment are further impacting Arctic organisms, ranging from microbes to charismatic megafauna such as seals and polar bears. A wide range of different actors are actively engaging with these environmental changes, including international governance bodies, Arctic and non-Arctic national governments, nongovernmental organizations, private corporations, indigenous and other Northern communities, and the broader international public. Even within any one of these categories, different organizations and individuals hold very different understandings of climate change and Arctic ecosystems, the normative implications of these understandings, and the politics necessary to achieve these normative visions.

 In this advanced seminar students will gain a broad understanding of how Inuit, Western scientists, political activists, corporations, and policymakers are understanding and reacting to environmental shifts in the Arctic. Readings and in-class discussions will demonstrate how differences in basic epistemological and ontological views of the world can produce drastically different political advocacies. Students will further explore how debate between different actors gives rise to knowledge politics which can simultaneously empowering and marginalizing. Toward the end of the course students will explore how Inuit activists, in particular, are using emerging forms of digital media to communicate their views to broader international audiences. Such communication is particularly important given the global nature of climate change and Arctic governance, but it also adds further complexity to the knowledge politics involved in environmental management.

The course's focus on interepistemological forms of knowledge politics will be reinforced by a pedagogical focus on roleplaying and debate. Throughout the quarter students will participate in three separate debates. During the debate they will be asked to roleplay as one of the identities discussed in the course: Inuit, scientist, government official, corporate representative, environmentalist, etc. These debates will require students to actively negotiate the difficulty of making and evaluating claims across different knowledge systems. Students will also write a reflection paper after each debate, in which they will focus on the ways in which different discursive strategies empower and/or marginalize the different perspectives in the debate. Students will also be required to do weekly reading, reflect on readings via written responses and in-class discussions, and produce a final paper.


Intellectual and Curricular Goals

The course has been designed to help students achieve a number of learning outcomes:

  • Develop an understanding of environmental change in the Arctic
  • Develop an understanding of how different epistemological and ontological frameworks affect beliefs about and responses to environmental change
  • Develop an understanding of how epistemological discussions lead to the empowerment and marginalization of different views, depending upon the discursive strategies employed in the discussions
  • Develop an understanding of how new digital media are being used to intervene in Arctic environmental politics
  • Improve critical thinking skills through reading, written activities, debate, and in-class discussions
  • Improve written and oral communication skills


Course Requirements and Grading

Seminar Participation (33%): The success of the seminar is dependent upon active student participation in activities and discussions. Students will be expected to complete assigned readings on time, and to participate productively in all seminar activities. Productive participation includes both contributing ideas and also listening respectfully to other students - find a rubric for how I will grade participation here. A student's lowest participation will be waived to account for inevitable absences; the impact of additional absences on the participation grade should be discussed ahead of time with the instructor.

Weekly Assignments (33%): In addition to assigned readings, each week students will be assigned a short written assignment. This assignment may be directly related to readings, may ask students to reflect on discussions or activities from class, or may ask students to extend class concepts to other contexts. Depending on the assignment, responses may be collated and shared with the class to encourage further discussion. Assignments must be submitted, via Canvas, by 5PM on Sunday of the week that it is listed.

Final Paper (33%): Students must complete a 15-page paper, due during examination week. This paper should explore the interactions between at least 2 different epistemological systems in pushing for policy responses to an environmental issue. How do the different systems understand the issue? What are the causes and solutions to the issue? What evidence and methods are used to determine these causes and solutions? How do the different systems speak to one another, and what are the effects of these dialogues for each system? What discursive strategies are used to build alliances, co-opt, or marginalize other knowledge systems? What non-environmental issues, such as broader issues of governance, morality, and economic development, are implicated in such discussions? This assignment's goal is to have students demonstrate that they can synthesize multiple perspectives and trace out the power effects of knowledge production, and less to have students perform a great deal of outside reading. As a result, students are welcome to write their paper on an environmental issue already discussed in the course. The paper may take a traditional research paper format, or you may take a fictional approach. More details will be shared later in the quarter.

Final course grades will be calculated as percentages, and then converted to a grade on a 4.0 scale using this conversion chart. I reserve the right to offer additional extra credit opportunities, or to curve grades for particular assignments upward, if I feel it is warranted.


Classroom Norms

Respect. This class involves discussions of sensitive topics, about which students may have very different perspectives. During discussion we must listen to and respond to others with respect, so that everyone feels comfortable and safe sharing their ideas.

Monitor your Speaking. It is important that all students have an opportunity to share their ideas. Please ensure that you are contributing to the class, but also that you are allowing space for other students to contribute their own ideas.

Invite New Voices Into the Conversation. If you notice that other students have not had an opportunity to contribute to a conversation, try to invite them into the discussion to share their perspective.

Appropriate Use of Technology. Try to only use your technology for purposes that directly contribute to your own educational advancement within the class.

Academic Honesty. Ensure that you are following University regulations regarding academic conduct, including the Student Conduct Code (here (Links to an external site.) or here (Links to an external site.), but especially Section 2 of WAC 478-120-040 (Links to an external site.)) and guidelines on plagiarism (Links to an external site.). Plagiarized assignments will automatically receive a zero, and further disciplinary action will be considered depending on the severity of the transgression.


Late Submission of Work and Grading Errors

In most cases late submissions of work will be penalized 10% per day that it is late, up to a maximum of a 50% deduction. However, grades based on in-class participation cannot be made up outside of class, and therefore cannot be made-up or submitted late. Please let me know ahead of time if you expect to miss a class, or if you expect that you will need to submit an assignment late. The last date at which late work will be accepted is 13 March 2010. Final paper may not be submitted late without special permission.

If you feel that any of your assignments have been incorrectly or unfairly graded, please wait 24 hours and then submit, via email, your argument as to why your grade should be changed.



I welcome the opportunity to work with any students with disabilities in this class to ensure equal access to the course. If you have a letter from Disability Resources for Students (DRS) outlining your academic accommodations, please present the letter to the professor (or email the professor to confirm if the letter is electronic) as soon as possible so that we can discuss the accommodations you may need for this class. Any discussions between student and professor need to occur as early as possible in order for adequate arrangements to be made. If you do not yet have a letter from DRS, but would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact DRS at (Links to an external site.) , in person at 011 Mary Gates Hall, or at 206-543-8924 (Voice & Relay).

Additional Details:

This course explores the increasing interactions between indigenous knowledge systems and Western science in production of environmental policy. We will use current environmental debates in the Arctic as a case study, but the course will highlight issues of indigeneity, colonialism, knowledge production, and power that are applicable throughout the world.


Catalog Description: 
Examines a different subject or problem from a comparative framework with an interdisciplinary perspective. Satisfies the Gateways major/minor requirement. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
September 1, 2017 - 9:11pm