Colonialism, Capitalism and Environmental Movements since the 1960s ESH4089

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes

Short Description

This course studies the origins of environmental movements fighting against capitalist growth and industrialization globally. It examines the contradictory characteristics of colonialism as a framework for activism across continents in the late 20th century. Key themes like scientific conservation, eco-feminism, and green economies are explored, with a focus on alternative politics in the Global South. The course also addresses critiques suggesting environmental movements can be radical, yet potentially worsen racial, gender, and class tensions. In-depth historical case studies explore areas like wildlife protection, fossil fuel emissions, nuclear disarmament, agriculture, water governance, and mining.


Lecture: 1x1hour lecture per week for ten weeks. 

Seminar: 1x1hour seminar per week for ten weeks.

Requirements of Entry

Enrolment in an MA (Social Science) or MA (Arts) honours programme

Excluded Courses





35% - One essay (2000 words, excluding bibliography and footnotes) chosen from a list of questions linked to seminar/lecture themes on colonialism from weeks 1-3 


30% - One primary source report project (1500 words excluding bibliography and footnotes) chosen from a list of topics/themes linked to course lecture topics that also reflects upon 3 attended seminar discussions from weeks 3 to 6


35% - One essay (2000 words, excluding bibliography and footnotes) chosen from a list linked to seminar/lectures themes on a selected 20th or 21st century environmental movement from weeks 7-10

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable for Honours courses

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. Where, exceptionally, reassessment on Honours courses is required to satisfy professional/accreditation requirements, only the overall course grade achieved at the first attempt will contribute to the Honours classification. For non-Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

■ Acquire a critical and foundational knowledge of the impact of colonialism in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and South Asia as it pertains to capitalist expansion, corporate interests, and contemporary environmental activism.

■ Develop and expand a critical awareness of the key themes shaping global environmental activism in the late 20th century to present. Support students to frame themes by reflecting on colonialism and its current relationship to power in terms of race, gender, and class in a global context.

■ Encourage students to think about and reflect on the history of environmental activism in relation to colonialism, capitalism, privilege, and power and its meaning in our contemporary world.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to: 


1. Demonstrate a critical awareness of the key historiographical, theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of global environmentalism.

2. Evaluate analytically the effect and impact of colonialism on: the environment, understandings of nature, and in shaping economic, social, political, and policy changes in North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.

3. Identify and assess key themes in environmental movements in both the Global North and Global South that proliferated in the late 20th century to present.

4. Integrate a critical evaluation of primary research data concerning environmental activism and demonstrate a reflective awareness of debates surrounding environmentalism in relation to privilege and power, esp. race, gender, and class.

5. Produce sustained and reasoned written arguments that critically assess an environmental movement and its relationship to colonialism, capitalism or privilege/power.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.