Ideas for Environmental Studies Electives

Global Gardening

Household gardening by hand is a global phenomenon. Yet because it happens at a micro-level and is generally not counted in the formal economy, homegardening tends to fall below scrutiny in considerations of food production on a global scale. Development programs target national agriculture systems and commodity food production, while household food production is seen as inefficient and unimportant. Yet homegardening practices can be deeply invested with cultural and aesthetic values, can contribute to biodiversity, and can be important for household subsistence. If global food security depends, in the long run, upon human knowledge and skill in the sustainable production of food, then gardening knowledge and practice is a priceless resource worthy of our attention.

Some quick ideas for course content:

Sample Literature:

Dilrukshi Hashini Galhena, Russell Freed and Karim M Maredia (2013) “Home gardens: a promising approach to enhance household food security and wellbeing.” Agriculture & Food Security 2013, 2:8 DOI: 10.1186/2048-7010-2-8. (A global overview)

Bronislaw Malinowski (1935) Coral Gardens and their Magic.

Michelle MacCarthy (2012) “Playing Politics with Yams: Food Security in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea.” Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment Vol. 34, Issue 2 pp. 136–147.

Mary P. Corcoran & Patricia C. Kettle (2015) “Urban agriculture, civil interfaces and moving beyond difference: the experiences of plot holders in Dublin and Belfast.” Local Environment The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, Vol. 20, No. 10, 1215–1230.

Melissa Caldwell (2011) Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia’s Countryside. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Food Activism

Activism that promotes access to nutritious food is on the increase. In some cases the issue is the absence of any fresh produce in an urban ‘food desert’ (an issue of food security), while in other cases it is the desire to eat food that is local or that is considered to be of higher quality than what is offered by industrial agriculture and the neoliberal trade system (an issue of food sovereignty). While learning about a range of food movements happening around the world, students will identify a local manifestation of food activism, get involved in it at some level, write about their participation, and assess what can be accomplished through that form of activism.

Examples of food activism:

Sample Literature:

Chiara Certoma and Chiara Tornaghi (2015) “Political gardening. Transforming cities and political agency.” Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, Vol. 20, No. 10, 1123-1131.

Karie Boone and Peter Leigh Taylor (2015) “Deconstructing homegardens: food security and sovereignty in northern Nicaragua” Agriculture and Human Values, published online April 2015, DOI 10.1007/s10460-015-9604-0

David Adams, Michael Hardman & Peter Larkham (2015) “Exploring guerrilla gardening: gauging public views on the grassroots activity.” Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, Vol. 20, No. 10, 1231-1246.

Sharon R. Roseman (2004) “Bioregulation and Comida Caseira in Rural Galicia, Spain.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 11: 9–37, 200

Alison Leitch (2003) “Slow Food and the Politics of Pork Fat: Italian Food and European Identity.” Ethnos, Vol. 68, No. 4, 437–462.


Strengthening the Humanities aspect. The core curriculum of the Environmental Studies major “requires students to master the basics of social science, natural science, and humanities approaches to understanding complex environmental issues.” After exploring the curriculum, my impression is that the humanities aspect is the least well represented. One way to strengthen this would be to provide coursework in creative writing and qualitative methodology.

Writing the Environment

This course would develop students’ creative capacity to produce writing on environmental or sustainability issues of interest to them. Students would read examples of writing on environmental themes, both fiction and non-fiction, taking them apart to identify what makes the writing engaging and effective (or not) and learning to understand different genres (one example on the fiction side is Barbara Kingsolver’s recent novel Flight Behavior). Then students would engage in their own environmental writing projects. Each student would choose to specialize in either fiction or non-fiction and would work on a short piece of writing, engaging in peer-t0-peer reading and critique. Finished pieces would be published in an online student magazine that would be visible on the UOP website (possible sites of linkage include Robb Garden, Sustaining Pacific, John Muir Center). I would create that magazine, edit the student work, and produce at least one finished issue per year.

Qualitative Research Methodology

I could offer an entire course on qualitative methodology, or could prepare a modular component to be included in an existing course. Approaches I have in mind include ethnographic techniques such as participant-observation and narrative interviewing; content analysis of textual and visual sources; archival research; conducting research via online social media; and other techniques. The main aim would be for students to recognize what kinds of research contexts and research questions cannot be answered through quantitative methods but demand a qualitative approach. I have been teaching qualitative research methodology since 2003, and have extensive experience both carrying out qualitative research projects as well as advising students carrying out such projects. I am also highly experienced in addressing ethical issues in qualitative research, having chaired the Social Research Ethics Committee at my university for three years as well as having spoken and published on research ethics.