ASTK18390U Cancelled Environmental Ethnography in Asia

Volume 2021/2022

Bachelor: 7,5 ECTS

Kandidat: 7,5 ECTS


This course will introduce environmental issues in Asia through the lens of ethnography. Students will be expected to read a set of book-length ethnographies over the course of the 14 weeks. Using these ethnographic texts as the basis for short written reflections and in-class discussions, we will consider the ways in which human-environmental interactions, which often cross-cut national borders and cultural boundaries, are shaping transnational Asia in contemporary times. Issues that will be explored include diverse understandings of the environment, influence of the state and non-state actors, colonialism and post-colonialism, modernity, gender, history and memory, global political economy, geopolitics, resource frontiers, armed conflict, dispossession, conservation, Indigenous activism, and biodiversity, climate, and sustainability. Various theoretical frameworks will be introduced and discussed.  


Some of the ethnographies are situated within specific local or national contexts while others span countries and continents using multi-sited research methods. However, all the texts highlight, in different ways, the transnational dimensions of Asian environments and politics. Countries covered include Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, China, India, as well as contested territories. Asian diaspora communities will also be covered. 


Students in this course  will learn about ethnographic methods as a mode of asking questions and making observations about social and environmental issues. That is, we will discuss ways to carry out research on, and write about, topics that encompass not only human society but other species and aspects of the environment as well. Some of the approaches we will discuss include political ecology, environmental history, and multi-species ethnography.  


Each week students will be asked to submit a short written reflection on the ethnography assigned that week. Students will take turns giving short presentations to begin our in-class discussion. The course will conclude with in-class presentations and a final paper in which students will be asked to synthesize themes from two or more the course texts with the option of including outside readings.  


Lecture topics:  

  1. 1. Introduction
  3. 2. Transnational Asia, political economy, and climate crisis 
  5. 3. Seeing environments like a state 

4. Colonialism, gender, and environmental history 

  1. 5. Forests, memories, and changing landscapes 
  2. 6. Indigenous communities and extraction
  4. 7. NGOs, development, and ecological discourse 
  6. 8. Water, urbanization and infrastructure 
  8. 9.Modernity, agriculture, and biodiversity
  10. 10. Living with plants and animals in a changing world
  12. 11. Debating the Anthropocene 
  14. 12. Dispossession, and Indigenous resurgence 
  16. 13. Conclusion and final presentations 
  18. 14. Final presentations 
Learning Outcome


Students will gain knowledge about critical environmental issues through an interdisciplinary lens, drawing on materials from anthropology, political science, environmental studies, and Asian studies. Students will gain knowledge about key concepts in social theory. They will be able to carry out analysis of social and environmental dynamics across a wide range of Asian countries, and transnationally.  Students will be able to engage with ethnographic texts at a high level, including considerations of research methods, motivation, writing style, and ethics.



Students will be able to identity and analyse social and environmental issues across different Asian countries, especially regarding governance, political economy, changing social dynamics, and climate/environmental crisis. They will gain skills in close reading and complex thinking about a text



Students will be able to engage critically with their accepted understandings of the environment, to consider other ways of relating to and making sense of bio-cultural landscapes. They will gain a comparative understanding of environmental issues across Asian countries, with the potential for broader application, as well as the ability to analyse how global engagements shape environments and social realities in local places.

Please note that this is an indicative reading list. Full reading list will be made available two weeks prior to the start of the course.



Bennett, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press

Brosius, J. Peter, Anna Tsing and Charles Zerner. 2005. Communities and Conservation: Histories and Politics of Community-Based Natural Resource Management. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Caouette, Dominique and Dip Kapoor. 2016. Beyond Colonialism and Globalization: Social Movements

Connerton, Paul. 2009. How Modernity Forgets. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

La Via Campesina. 2003. Declaracion de Maputo: La Via Campesina.

De La Cadena, Marisol and Mario Blaser, Eds. 2018. A World of Many Worlds. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Escobar, Arturo. 2009. “Other Worlds are (Already) Possible: Self-Organization, Complexity, and Post- Capitalist Cultures.” In World Social Forum Challenging Empires. Jai Sen, Peter Waterman (Eds.) New York: Black Rose Books.

Moore, Jason W., Editor. 2016. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History and the Crisis of Capialism. Leicester, UK: Kairos.

Nazarea, Virginia D. 1998. Cultural Memory and Biodiversity. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Peet, Richard and Michael Watts (Eds.). Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development, Social



Anand, Nikhil. 2017. Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai. Durham: Duke University Press.

Bauer, Andrew M. and Mona Bhan. 2018. Climate Without Nature: A Critical Anthropology of the Anthropocene. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chao, Sophie. (Forthcoming) 2022. More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua. Duham: Duke University Press.

Gold, Ann & Gujar, Bhoju Ram. 2002. In the Time of Trees and Sorrows: Nature, Power and Memory in Rajasthan. Durham: Duke University Press.

Govindrajan, Radhika. 2018. Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hathaway, Michael J. Environmental Winds: Making the Global in Southwest China.

Ley, Lukas. 2021. Building onBorrowwed Time: Rising Seas and Failing Infrastructure in Semarang. Minneapolis: University of Minnessota Press.

Padwe, Jonatha. 2020. Disturbed Forests, Fragmented Memories: Jarai and Other Lives in the Cambodian Highlands. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Tsing, Anna. 1993. In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-Way Place. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Tsing, Anna. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Watanabe, Chika. 2019. Becoming One: Religion, Development, and Environmentalism in a Japanese NGO in Myanmar. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.


Supplementary Readings

Allison, Edward H. and Violet Cho. 2020. “River Conservation by an Indigenous Community.” Nature. 11 December 2020.

Dove, Michel. 2012. The Banana Tree at the Gate: The History of Marginal Peoples and Global Markets in Borneo. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.

Haraway, Donna J.; Noboru Ishikawa; Scott F. Gilbert; Kenneth Olwig; Anna L. Tsing; Nils Bubandt. 2016. “Anthropologists Are Talking—About the Anthropocene.” Ethnos. 81 (3): 535-564.

Hsa Moo. 2017. “The Salween Peace Park: A Radical, Grassroots Alternative to Development in Karen State.” The Irrawaddy. 13 January 2017.

Kantor, Hayden. "People and Foods in Motion: Agricultural Dislocations and Culinary Remembrance in Bihar, India" in Movable Gardens: Itineraries and Sanctuaries of Memory. Virginia Nazarea and Terese Gagnon, Eds. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.

Each weekly session will be divided into two parts with a short break in between. The first part will include a presentation by the instructor while the second part will be comprised of short student-led presentations that will open the floor for group discussion. These discussions will critically engage with the assigned texts, including identifying key themes and academic debates running throughout the course. Students will submit short reading reflections each week as a means of synthesizing their thinking about what they have read in relationship to course themes, and in preparation for class discussion. Partway through the course students will submit a proposal for their final paper topic. The instructor will review these and provide feedback to the students who will then submit a written free assignment as their final exam.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)



7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free Written Assignement
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment

Criteria for exam assesment

  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner