Core subject: Perspectives on sustainability

Course content

Sustainability is often defined along the lines of the Brundtland Commission’s report Our Common Future from 1987. In this report sustainable development is defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Also, sustainability is often discussed in terms of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ sustainability, where weak sustainability focuses on ‘green’ adjustments possible within a capitalist market economy, while proponents of strong sustainability argues that it is not possible to address the drivers of ecological damage and social inequality without fundamental economic and social reforms (Stevenson 2018). With the advent of the  Anthropocene; a new geological epoch, where humans are the driving force behind planetary changes such as depletion of natural resources, pollution of the global commons and global warming the debate on sustainability has taken a new turn. Thus, researchers such as Johan Rockström and colleagues (2009) have identified and quantified a number of planetary boundaries that must not be transgressed if we want to avoid unacceptable environmental change, and they have pointed out that these boundaries have already been transgressed concerning such critical factors as biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle and climate change. They therefore propose a framework of ‘planetary boundaries’ aimed at defining “the safe operating space for humanity”. While these planetary boundaries can be said to define an ecological ceiling for economic growth if it is to be sustainable, an economist like Kate Raworth (2017) has coupled the planetary boundaries with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. With these goals the 193 member states of the UN have committed themselves to eradicate extreme poverty, ensure education, decent jobs and adequate health services for all. These goals can be said to constitute a social bottom for sustainability. So, according to Raworth economic growth can only be seen as sustainable if it takes us somewhere between this ecological ceiling and the social bottom, to what she calls “the safe and just operating space for humanity”. 


This newer way of understanding sustainability is only one of many approaches to sustainability, and it is still also very unclear what paths we as societies should follow in order to become fully sustainable. Because of this unclarity some argue that sustainability should be seen more as a process than as an end state.   


This course departs from the ways in which the different social science disciplines (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science and economics) defines sustainably, and how they approach the topic in their analyses. Over 11 weeks students at this cross-faculty course will therefore get introduced to the ways in which all the different disciplines at the Faculty of Social Sciences study sustainability, and by working with self-selected cases in cross-disciplinary groups students will learn to integrate perspectives from different disciplines in their own analysis.   


Indicative topics:

  • What is sustainability?
  • Sustainability: Perspectives from Environmental and Ecological Economics
  • Beliefs about climate change and the psychology of denial
  • The politics of climate change adaptation (resilience)
  • Green governance
  • Sustainable communities
  • Predictors of pro-environmental behavior and pathways to intervention
  • Discounting the Future and Intergenerational Justice in Climate Policy
  • Risk society

Core subject in the core subject track in The Politics of Environment, Climate and Sustainability.

Political Science: Only accessible to students who are admitted to the core-subject line.


MSc in Political Science


In the autumn 2023 the course is also offered to students at the

- Master Programme in Global Development

- Master Programme in Social Data Science

- Master Programme in Anthropology

- Master Programme in Psychology

- Master Programme in Sociology

- Master Programme in Economics


Enrolled students register the course through the Selfservice. Please contact the study administration at each programme for questions regarding registration.


NB! All exams (both ordinary and re-exams) will take place at the end of the autumn semester only, as the course is not offered in the spring

NB NB! Exam group size must be 4 - 6 students.

Learning outcome


The master students at this course will come to know and understand how sustainability is defined and approached in different social science disciplines. They will come to know the theoretical as well as political, economic, social and psychological shortcomings of existing ways of implementing the concept, and will become able to reflect critically on these.  


This course challenges students to think outside their normal disciplinary boundaries, and develop their skills in problem-oriented cross-disciplinary thinking. It develops critical thinking, creativity and innovation, and also develops the students skills in collaboration (through group-based activities) and communication (talk, presentations, paper and poster production). 


Through the lectures and the cross-disciplinary case-based group work the master students at this course learn to approach concrete problems and cases of sustainablity. By seeking concrete solutions to such sustainability problems, the students develop skills, which are highly valued by relevant employers.  

There will be three elements to the teaching at this course:
1) Teachers presentations.
2) Comments and criticisms from two teachers from other disciplines. There will therefore always be three teachers present during classes. These comments will open the floor for wider classroom discussion involving the students.
3) Case-based group work. During the entire duration of the course students will work with self-selected cases in cross-disciplinary groups. The students shall analyse their cases using perspectives from at least two disciplines (e.g. anthropology and economics), and present their results in class, with a poster at a half-day mini-conference, and in a final short paper.

Ulrich Beck, ‘Climate for change’

Dryzek et al., ‘Ecological modernization, risk society, and the green state’ (chapter 7 in Green States and Social Movements)

Julia Doyle, ‘Picturing the clima(c)tic’ (or chapter from her book, Mediating Climate Change)

Stevenson, H. (2018) Global Environmental Politics. Problems, Policy and Practice. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. Chapter 2 & 6; pp. 17-36 & 107-139.

Bulkeley, H. & Newell, P. (2010). Governing Climate Change. Routledge: London & New York. Chapter 2 & 3; pp. 35- 69 

Agger, A. (2010) ’Involving citizens in sustainable development: evidence of new forms of participation in the Danish Agenda 21 schemes’, Local Environment, vol. 15, No. 6, July 2010, 541-552 (12 pages)  

David Pearce (2002). An Intellectual History of Environmental Economics. Annual Review of Energy and Environment, volume 27, pp. 57-81.

Edward B. Barbier (2011). Pricing Nature. Annual Review of Resource Economics, volume 3, pp. 337-353.

Jessica Coria and Thomas Sterner (2011). Natural Resource Management – Challenges and Policy Options. Annual Review of Resource Economics, volume 3, pp. 203-230.

Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh (2000). Ecological Economics: Themes, Approaches, and Differences with Environmental Economics.

David Pearce (1987). Foundations of an ecological economics. Ecological Modelling, volume 38, pp. 9-18.

Robert Costanza (1989). What Is Ecological Economics? Ecological Economics, vol. 1, pp. 1-7.

Herman E. Daly (1968). On Economics as a Life Science. Journal of Political Economy, vol. 76, pp. 392-406.

Herman E. Daly (1990). Toward some Operational Principles of Sustainable Development. Ecological Economics, volume 2, pp. 1-6.

Herman E. Daly (1992). Allocation, Distribution, and Scale: Towards an Economics that is Efficient, Just, and Sustainable. Ecological Economics, volume 6, pp. 186-193.

Stephen C. Farber, Robert Costanza, and Matthew A. Wilson (2002). Economic and Ecological Concepts for Valuing Ecosystem Services. Ecological Economics, volume 41, pp. 375-392.

Goldman, L. (2012) ‘Dewey’s Pragmatism from an Anthropological Point of View’. Transactions of the Charles S. Pierce Society. Indiana University Press, 48(1), 1-30.
Berthou S. (2013). ‘The Everyday Challenges of Environmental Practices’. The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies 12(1) 53-6
Høite Hansen A.  (2019) In press. ‘It has to be reasonable. Pragmatic ways of living sustainably in Danish eco-communities’. In J. Hoff, Q. Gausset and S.W. Lex (eds.): Building a sustainable future. The role of non-state actors in the green transition. London: Routledge

Hornsey, M. J., Harris, E. A., Bain, P. G., & Fielding, K. S. (2016). Meta-analyses of the determinants and outcomes of belief in climate change. Nature Climate Change6(6), 622-627.

Hornsey, M. J., & Fielding, K. S. (2017). Attitude roots and Jiu Jitsu persuasion: Understanding and overcoming the motivated rejection of science. American Psychologist72(5), 459-473.

Kahan, D. M. (2015). Climate‐science communication and the measurement problem. Political Psychology36, 1-43.

Smith, N., & Leiserowitz, A. (2012). The rise of global warming skepticism: Exploring affective image associations in the United States over time. Risk Analysis: An International Journal32(6), 1021-1032.

Van der Linden, S., Leiserowitz, A., Rosenthal, S., & Maibach, E. (2017). Inoculating the public against misinformation about climate change. Global Challenges1(2), 1600008.

Elisabeth Shove & Gordon Walker, ‘Governing transitions in the sustainability of everyday life’ (or similar, in any case Shove and practice theory)

Jakob Laage-Thomsen & Anders Blok, ‘Civic modes of greening the city?’ (analysis of urban gardens etc., using Laurent Thévenot’s theory of engagement regimes)

Laidley, Thomas (2013) ”Climate, class and culture: political issues as cultural signifiers in the US”, The Sociological Review, Vol. 61, pp. 153-171. 

Pelling, M. (2011) Adaptation to Climate Change. From resilience to transformation. Routledge: London & New York. Chapter 1 and 2 (50 pages) 

Tomkins, E. & Adger, N. (2005) Defining response capacity to enhance climate change policy. Environmental Sciences and Policy, 8, 562-571. (9 pages)

Burch,S. & Robinson, J. (2007) ‘A framework for explaining the links between capacity and action in response to global climate change’, Climate Policy 7 (2007), pp. 304-316 (12 pages)

Milja Heikkinen, Tuomas Ylä-Anttila & Sirkku Juhola (2019) Incremental, reformistic or transformational: what kind of change do C40 cities advocate to deal with climate change?, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 21:1, 90-103, DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2018.1473151 (14 pages)

Moore H. 2017 “What Can Sustainability Do for Anthropology?”. In M. Brightman and J. Lewis (eds.): The Anthropology of Sustainability. Beyond Development and Progress, pp. 67-80. Basingstoke: Palgrave Mcmillan
Fairhead, J. And Leach, M. 2016. False Forest History, Complicit Social Analysis: Rethinking Some West African Environmental Narratives. In N. Haenn, R.R. Will and A. Harnish (eds.): The Environment in Anthropology. A Reader in Ecology, Culture and Sustainable Living, pp. 24-33. New York: NYU Press

Padoch, C.; Harwell, E. and Susanto, A. 1998. “Swidden, Sawah, and In-Between: Agricultural Transformation in Borneo”. Human Ecology, 26(1): 3-20.

Brick, C., & Lewis, G. J. (2016). Unearthing the “green” personality: Core traits predict environmentally friendly behavior. Environment and Behavior48(5), 635-658.

Gifford, R. (2011). The dragons of inaction: Psychological barriers that limit climate change mitigation and adaptation. American Psychologist, 66(4), 290-302.

van Valkengoed, A. M., & Steg, L. (2019). Meta-analyses of factors motivating climate change adaptation behaviour. Nature Climate Change, 1.

Fox Craig, R., & Sitkin, S. B. (Eds.). (2015). Challenging Assumptions about Behavioral Policy. Brookings Institution Press.

Wynes, S., Nicholas, K. A., Zhao, J., & Donner, S. D. (2018). Measuring what works: quantifying greenhouse gas emission reductions of behavioural interventions to reduce driving, meat consumption, and household energy use. Environmental Research Letters13(11), 113002.

Mols, F., Haslam, S. A., Jetten, J., & Steffens, N. K. (2015). Why a nudge is not enough: A social identity critique of governance by stealth. European Journal of Political Research54(1), 81-98.

Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychological science18(5), 429-434.

Prentice, D. A. (2018). Intervening to Change Social Norms: When Does It Work?. Social Research: An International Quarterly85(1), 115-139.

Huber, R. A., Anderson, B., & Bernauer, T. (2018). Can social norm interventions promote voluntary pro environmental action?. Environmental science & policy89, 231-246.

van der Linden, S. (2018). The future of behavioral insights: On the importance of socially situated nudges. Behavioural Public Policy 2 (2), 207-217.

BA level in the social sciences, and an interest in all aspects of sustainability.


Students will receive oral feedback and support during their group-based casework in class. Also, they will receive oral feedback on their presentation in class, and on their poster during the half-day mini-conference. 

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
Free written assignment (Group size: 4 - 6 people):

- If the whole group has failed the ordinary exam – the students can complete the re-examination in the same group again, and are subject to the same terms as the ordinary exam (35 pages)

- In all other cases – The students have to hand in an individual free written assignment (15 pages)
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


NB! All exams (both ordinary and re-exams) will take place at the end of the autumn semester only, as the course is not offered in the spring

Criteria for exam assessment
  • 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
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester

Please note that there will be two teams and that the students wil be destributed into the teams random
Max. 80 students.
Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Department of Psychology
  • Social Data Science
  • Department of Sociology
  • Department of Economics
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Michele Merrill Betsill   (9-7031656877766c6f6f436c6976316e7831676e)

Anne Bach Nielsen, Public Health (Political Science),
Michele Betsill, Political Science,
Nicole Doerr, Sociology,
Frikk Nesje, Economics
Peter Kjæer Kruse-Andersen, Economics,
Quentin Gausset, Anthropology,
Thomas Allan Morton, Psychology.

Saved on the 06-05-2024

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