Program: English MA
Units: Diverse Perspectives, Critical Animal Studies, Writing in the Elements Full
What do these units cover?
The units cover a range of topics. In the case of ‘Diverse Perspectives’, only some of this unit is on sustainability. For instance, it engages with writing about the environment from non-European voices, especially Native American. In contrast, ‘Critical Animal Studies’ addresses how humans engage with and relate to animals. Finally, ‘Writing in the Elements’ takes the four ‘traditional’ elements (Earth, Fire, Air, Water) and Uranium and uses them to ask questions about humans relate to the material world.
How is sustainability included in it? How did you decide what was appropriate?
Sustainability is fundamental to all of these units. Generally, they focus on approaching sustainability in a more ‘inward’ and cultural way, asking questions about how humans relate to the world around us and how that relationship has led us to our current problems.
If it uses any unusual/original pedagogy or assessment approaches to do this, what are these?
Field trips – both the ‘Critical Animal Studies’ and ‘Writing the Elements’ units include field trips (to the zoo and the Severn bridge respectively) where students have their own experiences of what they are studying and have to write about them in a diary-type form. This kind of study often leads people towards creative writing, and the assessment format tries to take this into account with more personal writing styles like diaries.
What sustainability-relevant ‘takeaways’ would you expect students to gain?
English has very significant role in both the reasons for the climate crisis and the potential solutions. Novels cannot be seen as ideologically neutral when it comes to environmental issues and have often created and perpetuated the kinds of narratives of human exceptionalism and centrality that have led us to the climate crisis. A critical perception of how narrative form and language are used – and particularly how both can mislead – is a fundamental skill to teach. For example, vested interests try to ensure that cosy language is used to describe the problem (e.g., ‘global warming’) and it takes an attentiveness to what language does and how narrative works to challenge this. In addition to this critical thinking, the cultural and creative significance of English will play a huge role in solutions to problems of sustainability. Extremely important to understand that cultural forces are just as important as political and economics in both creating and solving the current crisis.