ENVS 6147


York University Faculty of Environmental Studies

C O U R S E    S Y L L A B U S

Winter Term 1999


"Postmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good."

- Fredric Jameson



This course will be an advanced seminar acquainting students with the proliferating literatures that fall under the rubric of postmodernism, poststructuralism, and the modernity/postmodernity debate, and exploring how these literatures impact on, and may be seen as grounded in, environmental concerns broadly defined. The goal is to develop an understanding of how postmodernity (as a condition) and postmodernism and poststructuralism (as analytic and political approaches) affect and are affected by environmental studies.


Office : 337 Lumbers Bldg.

Office hrs : t.b.a.

Email : ai@yorku.ca

COURSE WEB SITE www.yorku.ca/faculty/academic/ai/6147.htm


This course is NOT recommended for students with little or no previous background in social or cultural theory. For that reason, ENVS 5147 Nature and Environment in Western Thought (or or its predecessor, ENVS5180 Interdisciplinary Social Analysis) is a prerequisite. ENVS 5103 Nature and Society is also recommended. Course enrolment is limited to 20 students.


This course extends the directions of ENVS 5103 Nature and Society and ENVS 5147 Nature and Environment in Western Thought (previously ENVS 5180 Interdisciplinary Social Analysis), and also particularly complements ENVS 6111 Cultural and Historical Perspectives of Nature, ENVS 6149 Culture and the Environment, and ENVS 7175 Global Environmental Politics.


This course has two main objectives:

(1) to deepen our understanding of the present era and of the 'environmental crisis' by examining the cultural, sociopolitical, technological and ecological dimensions of the condition that has been controversially labelled 'postmodernity'; and

(2) to examine selected critical responses to these developments, as these have been articulated in postmodernist, poststructuralist and (to some extent) postcolonial critical theory, assessing their usefulness and applicability for environmental thought and practice.

A third and supplementary objective will be to advance and refine our abilities to theorize and analyze the cultural world through critical engagement with a range of theoretical materials and cultural documents. The course will therefore be an intensive seminar demanding extensive reading and week-to-week preparation and participation.


Understanding the present is never an easy task, but this is especially so in times and places where the 'ground' seems to be 'shifting under our very feet.' Some of the profound shifts of the past few decades include transformations in:

Postmodernity or postmodernization are two of the terms that have been suggested to characterize these various shifts. Others--all different in their emphases and inflections--include 'late' or 'advanced modernity,' 'reflexive modernity' (Beck, Giddens), 'transnational capitalism,' 'fast' or 'disorganized capitalism' (Offe, Lash and Urry), 'society of the spectacle' (Debord), 'post-Fordism,' the 'information age' (Castells), and (in a different register) 'postcoloniality.'

This course will focus primarily on the cultural, technological, and ecological dimensions of these changes. In the first four weeks of the course we will focus on the broad questions: How can we best characterize our present era? In what ways has 'modernity' been replaced by a condition that can be called 'postmodernity', and what does it mean to say this? We will examine competing positions in the modernity/postmodernity debate, including those which analyze the 'postmodern condition' (1) as a logical continuation of modernity (and/or capitalism), (2) as a radical rupture with modernity, and (3) as a heterogeneous process and contested terrain, uneven in its effects and divergent in its implications for politics, culture, nature, and the experience of everyday life.

In the remainder of the course we will examine the impact of the processes associated with 'postmodernization' on actual environments--including natural and 'wild' ecosystems, built environments, cultural and media environments--and on changing understandings of 'nature,' 'life,' 'the environment,' and the possibility of environmental action and practice. Weeks 5 through 7 will focus on the effects of communication and information technologies in the 'society of the spectacle' and the 'simulacrum' (drawing on the theories of Baudrillard and others) and their implications for the understanding of nature (as image and simulation, virtuality and cybernetic system). Weeks 8 through 11 will explore changing theoretical understandings of nature and the nature/society relationship, and will focus on specific critical (poststructuralist) strategies for making sense of and responding to the postmodern situation, including the 'cyborg politics' of Donna Haraway and the discourse-analytical 'genealogies' of Michel Foucault. The final two weeks will be devoted to topics selected by students and to presentations of 'in progress' final paper work.


The reading load for the course will be relatively heavy (both in quantity and in depth of theoretical engagement), and the bulk of the course work will involve responding to, discussing, and analyzing the implications of the ideas expressed therein. Readings for the course will include some of the by now 'canonical' texts of the postmodern discourse, such as theoretical readings by Baudrillard, Jameson, Haraway, and literary readings by Gibson and Delillo; texts that reflect some of the diversity of ways in which the postmodernism/postmodernity thesis has been taken up by feminists, postcolonial (and anti-colonial) critics, and others; and applications of postmodern, poststructuralist and related forms of theory to the environmental problematic (by such authors as Beck, Latour, Escobar, Luke, Haraway, and others). Most required readings will be in a course reading kit; supplementary readings (if articles) will be made available on reserve in the FES Resource Center.


1. Course Reading Kit

2. Willliam Gibson, Neuromancer.


M. Zimmerman, Contesting Earth's Future: Radical Ecology & Postmodernity (U. California, 1994).

J. McGuigan, Modernity and Postmodern Culture (Open University Press, 1999).

S. Sim, ed., Routledge (Icon) Critical Dictionary of Postmodern Culture (Routledge 1999/Icon 1998)

B. Braun and N. Castree, eds., Remaking Reality: Nature at the Millenium (Routledge, 1998).

M. Oelschlaeger, ed., Postmodern Environmental Ethics (SUNY Press, 1995).

T. Jagtenberg and D. McKie, Eco-Impacts and the Greening of Postmodernity (Sage, 1997).

G. Robertson, M. Mash, et al., eds., FutureNatural: Nature, Science, Culture (Routledge, 1996).


Enrollment in the course is normally for 2 Course Units. The course will include extensive reading (averaging close to 100 pages a week), weekly preparation of brief commentaries and 'discussion papers' on the readings, informed participation in class activities, one in-class presentation on an author or reading, and a final paper (to be presented in unfinished form in one of the final two classes of the course).

Evaluation of students will be based on the following general breakdown, subject to individual variations (to be negotiated with the course instructor and confirmed in a written 'work contract' by the fifth week of the course):


Much of our classroom work will be structured around the model of a panel of speakers and discussants: i.e., each week's readings will be read as if they were talks presented by the authors in class, and students will be expected to prepare and present discussion questions and critical commentaries which link the readings with course themes.

Beginning in the fourth or fifth week of the course, individual and/or group presenters will be responsible for preparing a brief introduction to a selected author and reading. This will involve articulating the context, including the biographical and the theoretical/intellectual background of the article (who is the author? what audience are/were they addressing in this article? what broader discussion were they engaging in?). This should take up no more than about five minutes of class time. The presenter(s) should also prepare a class exercise, which may involve media or found materials, intended to allow the class to elaborate our understanding of the readings and ideas. This exercise should normally not take more than 10-15 minutes of class time (per presenter), though this can be negotiated with the course director under special circumstances. In addition, these students will be given the 'speaker's priviledge' to respond to other students' prepared questions and comments (a task the instructor will normally take on as well).

The final two classes of the course will be devoted to in-class presentations by all students of their final papers as works-in-progress (but significantly advanced towards completion). It is expected that the final papers, due two weeks after the final class, will incorporate the critical comments and insights gained during the in-class presentation of the material.








1. Charles Lemert, 'Postmodernism is not what you think,' in Postmodernism is Not What You Think, (Blackwell, 1997), 15-53.

2. David Morley, 'Postmodernism: the rough guide,' in J. Curran, D. Morley, V. Walderkine, Cultural Studies and Communications (Arnold, 1996), 50-64.

3. Jane Flax, 'The end of innocence,' in J. Butler and J. Scott, eds., Feminists Theorize the Political (Routledge, 1992), 445-60.

4. Gianni Vattimo, 'The postmodern: a transparent society,' in The Transparent Society (Johns Hopkins U.P., 1992), 1-11.

5. Cornel West, 'The new cultural politics of difference,' in R. Ferguson, et al., eds., Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures (MIT Press/New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990), 19-36.




1. Fredric Jameson, 'Introduction' and 'Postmodernism: or, the cultural logic of late capitalism,' Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Verso, 1991), ix-xxii, 1-54.

2. Rosalyn Deutsche, 'Boys town' (excerpt), Society and Space 9 (1991), 13-30.

3. Susan Bordo, '"Material girl": the effacements of postmodern culture,' Unbearable Weight (Univ. of California Press, 1993).

Supplementary reading

David Harvey, ch. 3, 17 and 18 in The Condition of Postmodernity (Blackwell, 1989).




1. Doreen Massey, 'A place called home?' and 'A global sense of place,' Space, Place and Gender (U. of Minnesota Press, 1994), 146-56.

2. Arjun Appadurai, 'Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy,' Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (U. of Minnesota Press, 1996), 27-47.

3. Jim McGuigan, 'The information age,' Modernity and Postmodern Culture (Open University Press, 1999), 104-21.

4. Smadar Lavie and Ted Swedenburg, Introduction to Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity (London: Duke U. Press, 1996), 1-23.

Supplementary reading

Doug Kellner, 'Globalization and the postmodern turn.'

Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, "Beyond 'Culture': Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference," Cultural Anthropology 9:1, 6-20.

Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies (Verso, 1989) and Thirdspace (Blackwell, 1996).

David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Blackwell, 1989).

Michael Keith and Steve Pile, eds., Place and the Politics of Identity (Routledge, 1993).

Neil Smith, 'Homeless/global,' in Jon Bird, et al., Mapping the Futures (Routledge, 1991).




1. Jean Baudrillard, 'The precession of simulacra' and 'The order of simulacra' (excerpts), Selected Writings, 166-82, 135-47.

2. Beth Seaton, 'Affected by artifice: the populist resentments of Reality TV,' Border/Lines 38/39, 43-7.

3. Don Delillo, 'The Airborne Toxic Event,' from White Noise (New York: Penguin, 1986), 109-63.

4. Steven Best, 'The commodification of reality and the reality of commodification: Baudrillard, Debord, and postmodern theory.' In Kellner, ed., Baudrillard: A Critical Reader (Blackwell, 1994).

Video: The Ad and the Ego or Videodrome.

Supplementary reading

Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (Indiana Univ. Press, 1995).

Mackenzie Wark, Virtual Geography: Living With Global Media Events (Indiana Univ. Press, 1994).

Kevin Robins, Into the Image: Culture and Politics in the Field of Vision (Routledge, 1996).




1. Andrew Ross, 'The ecology of images.' The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life: Nature's Debt to Society (Verso, 1994), 159-201.

2. Nigel Clark, 'Panic ecology: nature in the age of superconductivity,' Theory Culture & Society 14(1): 77-96, 1997.

3. Jean Baudrillard, 'Maleficent ecology.' The Illusion of the End (Stanford U.P., 1994), 78-88.

4. Dean MacCannell, 'Nature incorporated.' Empty Meeting Grounds (Routledge, 1992), 114-7.

5. Mackenzie Wark, 'Third nature,' Cultural Studies 8:1 (1994).

Supplementary reading

Denis Cosgrove, 'Contested global visions: one-world, whole-earth, and the Apollo space photographs,' Annals of the Assocition of American Geographers 84 (2), 1994, 270-94.

Jennifer Price, 'Looking for nature at the mall,' in W. Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground (Norton, 1996).

Jennifer Light, 'The changing nature of nature,' Ecumene 4: 2 (1997).

Jody Berland, 'Mapping Space: Imaging Technologies and the Planetary Body,' in Aronowitz, ed., Technoscience and Cyberculture (Routledge, 1996).




1. William Gibson, Neuromancer (Ace, 1984).

Recommended reading

2. Katherine Hayles, 'Virtual bodies and flickering signifiers,' in How We Became Posthuman (U. of Chicago Press, 1999); available at http://englishwww.humnet.ucla.edu/Individuals/ Hayles/Flick.html.

Supplementary reading

Doug Kellner, 'Mapping the present from the future: from Baudrillard to cyberpunk,' in Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and Postmodern (Routledge, 1995).

Larry McCaffery, ed., Storming the Reality Studio (Duke U. P., 1991).

Mark Poster, 'Postmodern virtualities,' in Robertson, Mash, et al., FutureNatural: Nature, Science, Culture (Routledge, 1996).

Tiziana Terranova, 'Posthuman unbounded: artificial evolution and high-tech subcultures,' in FutureNatural.

Vivianne Sobchack, 'New Age mutant Ninja hackers: reading Mondo 2000,' in M. Dery, ed., Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture (Duke U. P., 1994).

Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-modern Science Fiction (Duke, 1993).

Mark Dery, Escape Velocity: Cybercultuyre at the End of the Century (Hodder and Stoughton, 1996).

Arthur Kroker, 'Virtual Capitalism' in S. Aronowitz, ed., Technoscience and Cyberculture (Routledge, 1996).




1. Kate Soper, 'Nature/"nature".' FutureNatural. 22-34.

2. Bruno Latour, 'Crisis' and 'Constitution' 2.1 and 2.8, We Have Never Been Modern, pp. 1-12, 13-5, 29-32.

3. Arturo Escobar, 'After nature: steps to an antiessentialist political ecology,' Current Anthropology 40 (1), 1999, 1-20.

4. Ulrich Beck, 'World risk society as cosmopolitan society? Ecological questions in a framework of manufactured uncertainties,' Theory, Culture & Society 13 (4), 1996, 1-32.

Supplementary reading

A. Escobar, 'Whose knowledge, whose nature?' in Journal of Political Ecology 5 (1998): 53-82. Available electronically on Expanded Academic ASAP database (Scott Library web page).

A. Escobar, 'Constructing nature: elements for a poststructural political ecology.' Peet and Watts, eds., Liberation Ecologies (Routledge, 1996), 46-68.

Scott Lash and John Urry, 'Nature and the environment,' Economies of Signs and Space, 292-305.

Pramod Parajuli, 'Beyond capitalized nature: ecological ethnicity as an arena of conflict in the regime of globalization.' Ecumene 5 (2), 1998, 186-213.

Cronon, William, ed., Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (W.W. Norton & Co., 1995).

Phil Macnaghten and John Urry, Contested Natures (Sage, 1998).

Scott Lash, Bronislaw Szerszynski and Brian Wynne, eds. Risk, Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology (Sage, 1996).




1. Donna Haraway, 'A cyborg manifesto.' Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (Routledge, 1991), 149-81.

2. Donna Haraway, 'The promises of monsters: a regenerative politics for inappropriate/d others,' in Grossberg, et al., Cultural Studies (Routledge, 1992), 295-337.

Video: Donna Haraway Reads the National Geographies of Primates

Supplementary reading

Michael Zimmerman, 'Chaos theory, ecological sensibility, cyborgism,' ch. 8 in Contesting Earth's Future (Univ. of California Press, 1994).

'Nature, politics, and possibilities: a debate and discussion with David Harvey and Donna Haraway," Social Space 1995'.

Timothy Luke, 'Liberal society and cyborg subjectivity: The politics of environments, bodies, and nature,' Alternatives 21 (1996), 1-30.

Jane Bennett, 'Primate visions and alter-tales,' in J. Bennett and W. Chaloupka (eds.), In the Nature of Things: Language, Politics, and the Environment (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993), 250-65.

Joseba Gabilondo, 'Postcolonial cyborgs,' in C. H. Gray, ed., The Cyborg Handbook (Routledge, 1995), 423-32.




1. Mark Poster, 'Databases as discourse, or electronic interpellations,' in Heelas, Lash and Morris, eds., Detraditionalization (Blackwell, 1996), 277-91.

2. Timothy W. Luke, 'On environmentality: geo-power and eco-knowledge in the discourses of contemporary environmentalism,' Cultural Critique, Fall 1995, 57-81.

3. Paul Rutherford, 'The entry of life into history,' E. Darier, ed., Discourses of the Environment (Blackwell, 1999), 37-60.

4. Bruce Willems-Braun, 'Buried epistemologies,' Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87: 1 (March 1997).

Video: The End of Violence (dir: Wim Wenders).

Supplementary reading

Michel Foucault, 'Two lectures,' Power/Knowledge (Pantheon, 1981).

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Vol. 1 (Vintage Books, 1978).

Eric Darier, ed., Discourses of the Environment (Blackwell, 1999).

Thomas Birch, 'The incarceration of wildness: wilderness areas as prisons,' in Oelschlaeger, ed., Postmodern Environmental Ethics (SUNY Press, 1995).

T. W. Luke, 'Worldwatching at the Limits of Growth' and 'Environmental Emulations: Terraforming Technologies and the Tourist Trade at Biosphere 2,' in Ecocritique: Contesting the Politics of Nature, Economy, and Culture. (U. of Minnesota Press, 1997).

T. W. Luke, Capitalism, Democracy, and Ecology: Departing from Marx (U. of Illinois Press, 1999.

Richard Peet, 'Social theory, postmodernism, and the critique of development.' G. Benko and U. Strohmayer, eds. Space and Social Theory (Blackwell, 1997), 72-85.




1. Homi Bhabha, 'The other question,' The Location of Culture (1994).

2. Cate Sandilands, 'From natural identity to radical democracy,' Environmental Ethics 17 (Spring 1995), 75-91.

3. Eric Darier, 'Foucault against environmental ethics,' in Darier, ed., Discourses of the Environment, 217-31.

4. Felix Guattari, 'The three ecologies,' New Formations 8, 131-47.

Supplementary readings

John Johnston, 'Ideology, representation, schizophrenia: toward a theory of the postmodern subject,' in G. Shapiro, ed., After the Future.

Peter van Wyck, Primitives in the Wilderness: Deep Ecology and the Missing Human Subject (SUNY, 1997).

Cate Sandilands, The Good-Natured Feminist: Ecofeminism and the Quest for Democracy (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1999).

Gustavo Estera and Madhu Suri Prakash, Grassroots Post-Modernism: Remaking the Soil of Cultures (Zed, 1998).

Barri Cohen, 'Technological colonialism and the politics of water,' Cultural Studies 8: 1 (1994).

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987).

Felix Guattari, 'Regimes, pathways, subjects,' in J. Crary and S. Kwinter, eds., Incorporations (Zone, 1992).

Verena A. Conley, Ecopolitics: The Environment in Poststructuralist Thought (Routledge, 1996).








NOTE: The final two weeks of the course will be devoted to student presentations of final papers as works-in-progress. Specific paper topics will be determined in advance; but normally the final paper will draw on a specific course theme or themes and will explore in depth at least one author or book not read in the class (to be determined in consultation with course director). Where appropriate, it will be the responsibility of the student to find a brief selection to be shared with the rest of the class at least one week prior to the presentation.