The Politics of Nature and Place

Jessica Wiseman
Saturday 7 January 2023

The Politics of Nature and Place (IR4578, taught by Dr Roxani Krystalli) invites students to engage with nature and place as crucial forces that shape our understanding and experience of world politics. How have scholars considered the natural world in their analyses of violence, peace, and politics? How are nature and place represented and how do those representations inform our understanding of relationships, communities, and hierarchies? Ultimately, what do we talk about when we talk about ‘nature’ and place and what kind of politics is the politics of nature and place? Drawing from interdisciplinary texts that address both scholarly audiences and readers outside the academy, the reading list, activities, and assessments associated with this module invite students to not only think about politics and nature, but also feel and experience these questions in their lives. 

The module reorients where it asks students to seek and find the political. We look for the political in botanical gardens and allotments, on the beach behind the university, in fairy tales we read as children about ‘exotic’ places and jungles, in land rights campaigns, and in framings of ‘the sea’ as being responsible for the deaths of migrants, among other places. To enact the commitment of learning beyond and outside the formal classroom, students take guided field trips to the St Andrews Botanic Gardens and the local natural history museum to see the themes of the module in action, ranging from reflecting on botanical colonialism to how university museums tell stories about items in their collections and about their relationship to place and community. During field trips, students are encouraged to pause and engage with all senses, from listening to birdsong to feeling dry soil between their hands, and to reflect on how that deepens their understanding of what counts as knowledge and of the processes by which knowledge comes into being.  

Second, the module encourages reflexive thinking and writing, and encourages students to consider how their education not only takes place in Scotland, but also is rooted in that place. This is important for ensuring that the gaze of international relations is not always directed ‘elsewhere.’ Guided by blog posts, podcasts, and nature writing that we read together in addition to work written for academic audiences, students write 500-word reflexive responses each week, connecting one dimension of the readings to one experience in their own lives. They also write place biographies over the course of several weeks, whereby they tell the story of their life as connected to place(s). They engage with feminist, Indigenous, and decolonial scholarship on relationality and kinship to reflect on their relational introductions: Who are they in relation to nature and place, and what sustains (or harms) those relations?  

Finally, the module takes joy and care seriously – as practices for relating to nature and place at a time of climate catastrophe and ongoing displacements, as practices of knowledge generation, and as vectors for living.  

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