Typhoon Hato claimed at least 10 lives in Macau and rendered the city paralyzed in the summer of 2017. What made a typhoon so disastrous to the city? Environmental issues are as much social and political as they are material and ecological. This course presents a multi-disciplinary perspective on human-environment relations, with a special focus on the urban settings. While we draw on insights and theories developed in history, anthropology, sociology, geography and other social sciences, we approach the human-environment issues primarily through case studies in different parts of Asia at different times, with references to other parts of the world. Scientific facts, as narrowly defined, will not be the focus of discussion in the course. Instead, we seek to understand how power structure along the lines of class, gender and race/ethnicity, cultural values and sociality shape the way in which we perceive, understand, and act on environmental issue, and the consequences of such perception, understanding and action on human society.
We begin with an introduction to the general framework in which we analyze and interpret the human-environment relationship. In Section II, we discuss three issues that are closely related to social theories and practices: the environment becoming the object of knowledge and governing strategies (planning), housing (labor and capitalism) and public spaces (public sphere and civil society). In Section III, we explore how certain artefacts have been perceived and acted upon as “nature,” “resources,” and/or “commodities” that are essential in everyday life and politics. In the last Section, we examine the politics in actions that are intended to protect and preserve the environment. In doing so, students will become exposed to different approaches to human-environment relations and be able to use some analytical concepts to understand some environmental phenomena in their lives.