Module Identifier GG36410  
Academic Year 2001/2002  
Co-ordinator Dr Deborah Dixon  
Semester Semester 1  
Course delivery Lecture   20 Hours 10 x 2 hours  
Assessment Supplementary examination   2 Hours Same format   100%  
  Exam   2 Hours A seen two-hour examination - Answer two from four questions   100%  

Module Outline (Lecture Themes)

The subfield of hazards and risk is one of the few areas within the discipline that brings together the work of physical and human geographers, covering a broad range of subjects from climatology and hydrology to disease and health, and from engineering to uneven development. It is this close connection, perhaps, that explains why the subfield has so far been largely ignored by critical human geographers, who have been instrumental in transforming more uniformly 'social' subfields such as urban, political, and cultural geography: taken together, the theories and methods underpinning Marxist, feminist and poststructuralist geography have rarely been applied to the hazards and risk research agenda (though the exceptions are certainly significant). What we are beginning to see, however, is the impact within this subfield of what have been termed the 'science wars.' Many of the most fascinating debates on the status of truths, facts, and theories, as well as research and teaching, have been carried out within the broader scientific community of physicists, biologists, and chemists, as well as anthropologists, sociologists, and philosophers. The proponents and critics of 'social constructionism' - an approach that emphasizes the rational and contextually specific character of all scientific ideas and practices - are but the most recent participants in this intellectual struggle.

In this module, then, we take a look at the origins and current concerns of the 'science wars,' paying particular attention to the contributions of Thomas Kuhn and Bruno Latour, as well as their critics, and the input of Marxist and feminist writers. Next, we turn to the hazards and risk literature within human geography, noting how this approach has developed a very specific research agenda and associated methods (please note that there is no expectation or requirement that students have an in-depth knowledge of physical processes in order to take this class, although reference to broad-scale ideas and theories will be made). With this grounding in place, we can assess how research into 'natural' and 'human' hazards, including disease and ill health, has traditionally been carried out, and how it is currently being impacted by the 'science wars.' In doing so we will utilize a wide range of topical case studies within the environmental and medical literature, backed up on occasion by short video clips.

Key Themes

Origins of the 'science wars:' Kuhn's history of science; sociology of scientific knowledge, Marxist critique of science: the production of nature; political ecology

Feminist critique of science: Constructionist accounts of science: the construction of nature; the defence of science

The environment, risk and the media: from health warnings to the disaster movie

The hazards and risk sub-field: behaviourism and welfare; vulnerability and dependence; environmentalism and deep ecology

Textual Analysis via the computer

The construction of 'natural' hazards: famine and floods; hurricanes; volcanoes

The construction of 'human' hazards: pollution; global warming; industrial accidents: technowarfare

Medical geography literature and case studies: mesmerism; clustering; biomedical discourse; Genome project; insanity

Applications to Wales

Module Aims

The intent of this module is to introduce students to the social context within which hazards are recognized, experienced, and planned for.

Module objectives / Learning outcomes

On completion of this module students will have gained an appreciation of:

Students will be able to:

Reading Lists

** Essential Reading
Piers Blaikie et al. (1994) At Risk: Natural hazards, people's vulnerability, and disasters. London and New York: Routledge
Bruce Braun et al. (1998) Nature at the Millennium. Routledge: London
Ian Hacking. (1999) The Social Construction of What. Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press