Academic Year 2021/2022

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Local and Global Development (cod. 9200)

Learning outcomes

The course aims to give students a grounding in anthropological approaches to sustainability. Drawing on sub-disciplines such as indigenous ethnology, environmental and economic anthropology, and political and historical ecology, it will train participants to think across established disciplines, and to challenge some basic assumptions behind mainstream approaches.

Course contents

After a general introduction to the anthropology of sustainability which introduces key themes such as environmental justice, gender, and colonialism, the first part of the course will use mostly lowland South American ethnography to provide a grounding in environmental and ecological anthropology. This section begins with sessions on Amazonian historical ecology, on the ecological relations of production in Amazonian ecosystems, and on the systems of ownership that help to organize the human and symbolic ecology that are associated with them. We then examine the role of shamanism in this symbolic ecology, and how and why shamans are involved in ecological struggles. These struggles frequently revolve around infrastructure projects, and we consider the local impacts of infrastructure, to introduce a series of sessions on development and some of its green and sustainable manifestations. We then consider the relationship between religion, economics, finance and sustainability, before closing with a session on climate change, the Anthropocene, and science and technology.


 Indicative and preparatory readings (pleas see Virtuale for full reading list)

Brightman, M. and J. Lewis 2017. The Anthropology of Sustainability: Beyond Development and Progress. New York: Palgrave

Agrawal, A. 2005. Environmentality, Durham: Duke.

Biersack, Aletta and James Greenberg 2006. Reimagining political ecology. Durham: Duke University Press.

Bird Rose, Deborah. 2011. Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Dove, M. and C. Carpenter (eds) 2008 Environmental Anthropology: A Historical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gudeman, S. and A. Rivera 1990. Conversations in Colombia: The Domestic Economy in Life and Text. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Tsing, A. 2006. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Durham: Duke.

West, P. 2006. Conservation is our government now: the politics of ecology in Papua New Guinea. Durham: Duke University Press.

Denevan, William. 1992. "The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492." Annals of the Association of American Geographers v. 82 n. 3 (September 1992), pp. 369-385.   

Teaching methods

The course will be taught mostly through the discussion of ethnographic case studies. The sessions will alternate between lectures, followed by open discussion, and student-led seminars, based on readings for that week. Before lecture classes, all students must read at least three of the texts in advance, and prepare notes and a set of points for discussion. For seminar classes, two or more students will prepare a class presentation for each seminar, based on that week’s theme, using class readings, accompanied by slides, lasting between 8 and 10 minutes. This material will form the basis of an open discussion to delve more deeply into the themes that emerge.

Assessment methods

Assessment will be through oral examination, during which students must discuss an essay of c. 1500 words, on a theme based on the course, to be agreed with Prof. Brightman, which they must submit at least one week before the examination. The best essays will be published on the SCALa (anthropology lab)website. Students should demonstrate initiative and are strongly encouraged to explore readings beyond the course bibliography, and to draw on their own experience, fieldwork etc. The argument of the essay must engage with anthropological theory, and points must be substantiated with ethnographic evidence.

Students are also recommended to familiarise themselves with one or two detailed ethnographic case studies, which they can use to illustrate ideas discussed during the course.

As well as book length monographs, it is vital to explore recent work published in major anthropology journals, such as Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Current Anthropology, L'Homme (in French) or Mana (in Portuguese).

Office hours

See the website of Marc Andrew Brightman


Good health and well-being Gender equality Reduced inequalities Life on land

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.