ENVA 355 Fall 2014 Syllabus


ENVA 355
Methods & Approaches in Environmental Studies
Tu/Th 12:45-2:30
 Cowell 316

Course Home • Assignments • Class Notes

Instructor: Stephen Zavestoski
Office: K Hall 218 (x5485); smzavestoski@usfca.edu; @smzavestoski
Office Hours: Tu/We/Th 10:30-12 and by appt

Course Description

Environmental Studies is an inherently interdisciplinary field of study that requires the ability to understand the interrelationships between human social systems and natural ecological systems. Methods & Approaches in Environmental Studies is a “how to” course focusing on how to identify research questions, design research methodologies, carry out research, and analyze research findings.

Methods & Approaches in Environmental Studies is also distinctive in linking four levels we attend to in environmental analysis: data, methods, theories, and frameworks. At the lowest level, environmental analysis engages with data, or ecological, geological, social, political, economic, and other information pertinent to environmental issues. These data generally lend themselves to one or more methods of analysis, which themselves follow from broad explanatory theories about environmental problems and solutions, and/or even broader philosophical frameworks about reality and how it is known. Developing some degree of competency across this entire spectrum of data, methods, theories, and frameworks is key to doing good environmental analysis, and also helps you build both empirical (data-based) and conceptual (idea-based) tools to shed scholarly light on environmental issues.

Finally, you will learn and complete the grant-writing cycle. With help from Office of Sponsored Projects, Career Services Center and Gleeson librarians, you will learn how to find, research, write, and submit a grant.

Learning Outcomes

You will leave Methods & Approaches in Environmental Studies with a diverse analytical toolkit, one that includes a wide range of quantitative and qualitative approaches.

You will be able to

  1. Communicate the intellectual and practical/empirical complexities of environmental problems and solutions
  2. Demonstrate a mastery of key concepts and methods of environmental analysis drawn from, and integrating, a broad range of disciplines
  3. Identify the appropriate uses of a range of quantitative and qualitative methods for data collection and analysis
  4. Design a research project intended to answer a question relevant to the human dimensions of environmental problems
  5. Find grant opportunities and write a grant proposal for an environmental sustainability related project.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Research Assignments—Three mini-research assignments requiring you to propose a research design for a predefined research question using one or more of the research methods covered in class. (Outcomes 2-3)

Quizzes—10 quizzes designed to assess comprehension of readings and lectures. Quizzes will entail short-answer essay questions, multiple-choice questions, and/or short problem sets based on the readings and/or lectures. (Outcomes 1-3)

Midterm Exam—A cumulative in-class midterm exam, consisting of multiple choice, T/F, fill-in-the-blank and short answer essay questions. (Outcomes 1-3)

Research Design Proposal–A fully developed proposal for research, including detailed recommendations and justifications for methodological choices and design, intended to answer a specific question related to an environmental problem. Proposals should be a minimum of eight pages. (Outcomes 1-4)

Grant Writing Assignment–Research grant opportunities in a field of your choice, then write a proposal that meets the requirements established by the grantmaker (e.g., statement of purpose, methods, implications, budget). (Outcome 5)

Contributions to the Learning Community—Attendance, participation during interactive class discussions and in-class group exercises. Student participation in these components of the course will provide another opportunity for evaluation of progress toward the learning objectives. Attendance is mandatory. Every unofficial absence beyond two will result in a one-grade reduction (e.g., from B to B-) for this component of your grade. (Outcomes 1-2)


Letter grades for each assignment will be weighted as follows:
Research Assignments: 2 X 10% each = 20%
Quizzes: 8 X 2% each = 16%
Midterm Exam: = 15%
Research Design Proposal: = 20%
Grant Writing Assignment = 15%
Contributions to the Learning Community: = 14%
TOTAL = 100%

Required Texts

Environmental Social Science: Human-Environment Interactions and Sustainability, Emilio F. Moran, Wiley-Blackwell (2010). ISBN: 978-1-4051-0574-3

An Introduction to Scientific Research Methods in Geography and Environmental Studies (2nd ed.), Daniel R. Montello and Paul Sutton, SAGE (2012). ISBN: 978-1-4462-0075-9

How to Say It: Grantwriting: Write Proposals That Grantmakers Want to Fund, Deborah S. Koch, Prentice Hall (2009). ISBN: 1-101-14476-9

Other readings available online or on reserve where noted

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Week 1: How do we know what we know? Epistemology and the Sociology of Science

Aug 19

Bruno Latour, “Experimentation Without Representation is Tyranny”

Aug 21

Bruno Latour, “A Plea for Earthly Sciences

Increased risk of head injuries among cyclists may be linked to bike-sharing programmes

“Does Changing a Light Bulb Lead to Changing the World? Political Action and the Conscious Consumer,” Margaret M. Willis and Juliet B. Schor, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2012), 644: 160. Click to access: Political Action and Conscious Consumption

Week 2: Shaping the questions we ask: Frameworks and theories in environmental studies (social construction of nature, political ecology, market liberal perspectives)

Aug 26

Montello and Sutton, Chapter 1

  • A lot of time was spent in the first week of class discussing the critiques of science as a way of knowing about the world. How would the authors respond to these critiques?
  • What do you think the authors mean that “environmental studies appreciates that understanding environmental issues must occur within the mutual contexts of space, place , and time?”

Moran, Chapter 1

  • How would you explain the difference between the study of how past changes in the physical environment have shaped the human relationship with the environment, and the study of how contemporary global environmental changes are shaping the human-environment relationship?
  • Moran advocates for research on human-environment interactions that is “multinational, multidisciplinary, multi-scale, multi-temporal, spatially explicit, and policy relevant.” Can you explain why he insists that research must meet these standards?

Aug 28

Moran, Chapters 2

  • So far we have discussed the social sciences and natural sciences as if they are two distinct and difficult-to-bridge areas of science. Based on your reading of the various social science theories and concepts in Chapter 2, do you see any internal divisions within the social sciences? Are there differences in the ways that anthropologists, geographers, psychologists, sociologists, political economists, or others have gone about studying human-environment relations create obstacles to theoretical unification within the social sciences, much less between the social and natural sciences?

Week 3: Interactions between humans and nature: Counting people and resources (defining variables, operationalization, measurement)

Sept 2

Montello and Sutton, Chapters 2-4

  • As you read about the difference between “idea concepts” and “empirical” concepts, think about a possible topic of interest to you and a researchable question related to that topic. Can you break your question down and conceptually define the key concepts in the question? This might be tougher, but can you think of possible ways to actually observe (i.e., measure) the concepts you are defining?
  • Next try to explain the proper scale at which your question should be explored; or, if it could be explored at multiple scales, try to explain how the question might be approached at different scales.
  • After reading chapter 3, you should have a general understanding of the ways in which science is communicated. Do you think there might be features of the journal article publishing and grant writing processes that reinforce narrowly focused and discipline-specific types of environmental research?
  • You should be able to explain the advantages and disadvantages of quantitative and qualitative approaches to data collection.  Does the research question you’ve been thinking about lend itself to one type or the other? How would combining qualitative and quantitative data enhance your understanding of the question?

Moran, Chapter 3

  • Moran’s aim in Chapter 3 is to introduce social scientists to the major theories and perspectives employed by biologists and ecologists (e.g., natural selection, succession, etc.). Think back to Chapter 2 (e.g., Boserup’s argument that there is “no natural carrying capacity” and that limits to productivity depend on available technology, human capital and social capital) and discussions in class about debates between determinism and agency. If most social scientists begin with the assumption that humans are “exceptional” in their exercise of agency, what would be some of the challenges of social scientist integrating theories and perspectives with biologists?  

Sept 4

Montello and Sutton, Chapter 5

  • Note how this chapter is divided between “Physical Measurements in Biophysical Geography” and “Physical Measurements in Human Geography.” Why is the first section so much longer than the second? Do you think there are challenges to collecting physical measures of humans? Or is it that non-physical measures (like surveys) are more useful? 

Moran, Chapter 4

  • After reading this chapter, if nothing else, you should be able to explain what is meant by a spatially explicit research approach. You might also think about how GIS and remote sensing might serve as research methods that can integrate natural and social science perspectives and interests. Use one of the examples of research in the chapter, like deforestation in the Amazon, and try to explain how geospatial analysis is used in observing both ecological and social variables.  

Week 4: Designing research: Linking the social and ecological (challenges of mixed methods approaches)

Sept 9

Moran, Chapters 5 and 6

  • There are two key concepts in chapter 5: multi-scale and multi-temporal analysis. You should be able to state what these concepts refer to and illustrate their meaning by using an example. For multi-scale and multi-temporal analysis, you might want to think in terms of geographical and social/organizational scale. In the case of the former, scale can range from less than a square meter to continents or even the entire planet. How do researchers make different choices about sampling and cases depending on the scale of analysis? In terms of social or organizational scale, researchers might observe individuals, families, communities, regions, nations or global society. Depending on which scale is being examined, what kinds of data might a researcher be able to collect? Finally, if you can answer these questions about the differences in scales, you should be able to explain the challenges in doing research that spans multiple scales.
  • Biocomplexity is the key concept in chapter 6. You should be able to go through a similar set of steps as described above for multi-scale and multi-temporal analysis to explain what biocomplexity is and how researchers respond to it (e.g., how does it challenge researchers and what are some approaches to modeling the interrelations of ecological and social systems?).   

Sept 11

Koch, Intro and Chapters 1-3

Week 5: Grant writing

Sept 16

Koch, Chapters 4-7

Sept 18

Koch, Chapters 8-11

Week 6: Grant writing and Evaluation Research

Sept 23

Koch, Chapters 12-16

Sept 25


Week 7: Methodological Choices in Social Science Research

Sept 30

Montello and Sutton, Chapters 6-8

  • Sorry. No questions. 

Oct 2

Moran, Chapter 7

  • Sorry. No questions. 

DUE: Research Assignment #1

Week 8: Sampling and Statistical Analysis

Oct 7

Mid-term review

Oct 9

Mid-term Exam

Week 9: Comparing Ethnography and Experimental Research Design

Oct 14 (NO CLASS; Fall Break)

Oct 16

“The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing).”  Bum Jin Park, Yuko Tsunetsugu, Tamami Kasetani, Takahide Kagawa, Yoshifumi Miyazaki. Environ Health Prev Med (2010) 15:18–26. Physiological effects of forest bathing

“Qualitative Indicators of Social Resilience in Small-Scale Fishing Communities: An Emphasis on Perceptions and Practice.” Teresa R. Johnson, Anna M. Henry, Cameron Thompson. Human Ecology Review (2014) 20(2):97-115. Qualitative Indicators of Social Resilience

“Social and Ecological Resilience: Are They Related?” W. Neil Adger. Progress in Human Geography (2000) 24(3):347–364. Social and Ecological Resilience Are They Related

Week 10: Participatory Action Research and Community-Based Participatory Research

Oct 21

Striving for Mutuality in Research Relationships: The Value of Participatory Action Research principles” in Researching Sustainability: A Guide to Social Science Methods, Practice and Engagement. Franklin and Blyton (eds.). Taylor & Francis (2011). Participatory Action Research principles

Oct 23

Read the research assigned as part of Research Assignment #2:

“Water decision-makers in a desert city: text analysis and environmental social science,” Amber Wutich and Clarence C. Gravlee. In Environmental Social Sciences: Methods and Research Design (2010), I. Vaccaro, E.A. Smith, and S. Aswani (eds.). Cambridge Univ. Press. Link: Water decision-makers in a desert city

“Extreme events, tipping points, and vulnerability: methods in the political economy of the environment,” Eric C. Jones. In Environmental Social Sciences: Methods and Research Design (2010), I. Vaccaro, E.A. Smith, and S. Aswani (eds.). Cambridge Univ. Press. Link: Extreme Events…Political Economy of Environment

“Khat commodity chains in Madagascar: multi-sited ethnography at multiple scales,” Lisa L. Gezon. In Environmental Social Sciences: Methods and Research Design (2010), I. Vaccaro, E.A. Smith, and S. Aswani (eds.). Cambridge Univ. Press. Link: Khat commodity chains

DUE: Research Assignment #2

Week 11: Literary analysis, text analysis and other humanistic methods

Oct 28

Montello and Sutton, Chapters 9-10

Oct 30

Montello and Sutton, Chapters 11-12

Friday, October 31 – Last day to drop classes

Week 12: Doing Research

Nov 4

No assigned readings (catching up on Montello and Sutton chapters 11 and 12 and discussing Research Design Proposal and Grant Writing Assignment)

Nov 6

Discussion of Drafts of Research Design Proposals

Week 13: Review of Research Methods and Challenges

Nov 11

No assigned readings (catching up on Montello and Sutton chapter 12)

Review and discussion of Research Design Proposals

Nov 13

Review and discussion of Grant Writing Assignment

Week 14: Ethical and Other Challenges of Doing Research

Nov 18

Montello and Sutton, Chapters 13 and 14

Nov 20

Rachel Morello-Frosch et al. (2009) “Toxic Ignorance and the Right to Know: Biomonitoring Results Communication; A Survey of Scientists and Study Participants” (PDF), Environmental Health 8:6 [doi:10.1186/1476-069X-8-6]

Lynch, K. (1999) “Equality studies, the academy and the role of research in emancipatory social change” (PDF), The Economic and Social Review, 30(1), 41-69

Week 15

Nov 25

Presentation of Research Design Proposals or Grant Writing Assignment

Nov 27 (NO CLASS; Thanksgiving break)

Week 16


Presentation of Research Design Proposals or Grant Writing Assignment

Due, Dec. 5, 3pm: Research Design Proposal and Grant Writing Assignment

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Honor Code

Higher education should nurture and develop a “life of the mind.” Such a life is rooted in contemplation, reflection, and analysis, among other activities. It is not rooted in competition. Cheating is a strategy taken to by students who are either lazy or who believe that they are competing for something that requires certain grades they are not capable of achieving on their own. If you are unable to uphold the standards of honesty and integrity in your academic work, necessary action–including but not limited to failure on any assignment for which the honor code has been violated–will be taken. All students are expected to know and adhere to the University’s Honor Code. You can find the full text of the honor code online. Here is the Academic Honor Pledge:

I pledge to demonstrate the core values of the University of San Francisco by upholding the standards of honesty and integrity, excellence in my academic work, and respect for others in my educational experiences, including supporting USF’s mission.



Be present and on time for all class meetings. The required course readings will provide information on a range of topics, whereas the lectures and class discussions will focus on selected topics in more depth. Therefore, regular class attendance is very important. Students should NOT notify the instructor regarding anticipated or actual absences from class. In the event of an absence, it is your responsibility to obtain class notes and handouts from other classmates or from the class website. Frequent absences and/or tardiness will negatively impact a student’s final grade in the course.

In-class Behavior

You may bring a computer to class for occasions when in-class activities require them. Except when specifically invited, however, please do not have your computer out during class. Silence and keep cell phones stored during class. You may bring food and/or drinks to class, as long as all containers are reusable and/or compostable.

Class Participation

Student contribution to class discussions and lectures is a vital part of the learning process. Students are expected to participate during class lectures and discussions by asking questions and offering comments based on their reading of the assigned readings and the material presented. Discussion is an important part of the learning process for the following reasons: it forces each of us to develop our own ideas and reactions to the topics and issues raised in the readings; hearing different interpretations of the readings forces us to refine, expand or even abandon our own interpretations; verbalizing your own ideas initiates a self-discovery process in which you come to see yourself in a new way (a form of “self-learning”); and, because no one will ever know how what goes unspoken during a discussion might have taken the discussion in another direction, changed others’ viewpoints, or changed one’s own viewpoints.

To make the classroom environment as conducive to productive discussion as possible, we’ll observe these basic rules: everybody has something valuable to say; silence following someone’s comment or question is not an indication of the quality of the comment; in discussing/debating a topic we address issues and ideas, not people; it is not necessary to sound academic or intellectual; if a question is asked that is not understood, an attempt should be made to understand the question before moving on.


All information related to the course, as well as announcements regarding updates (e.g., reading assignment changes, due date changes) will be posted to smzavestoski.com/enva355 Occasionally you will receive an email update sent to your usfca.edu account. Please check this account regularly or link it to your preferred email address.

Assignment Standards


Your papers must be typed, double-spaced, and in Times New Roman 12 point font. Be sure to follow the word count guidelines that I have given you, and write the exact word count in the upper right-hand corner of the first page.


Cite your sources using APA style (http://www.apastyle.org) and include a reference section. References are not part of your word count.


All papers must be submitted by 5pm on the indicated due date. Attach your Microsoft Word or Apple Pages file to an email and send it to smzavestoski@usfca.edu. You will receive a reply from me to confirm receipt.

Grading of Written Assignments

Clear, careful, and lively writing is expected. At this point, you should have the ability to write effective analytical and research papers free of basic grammatical and punctuation errors. As such, your written assignments will be graded based both upon the quality of your writing and the extent to which the content reflects your understanding of the course material. The content grade will be assigned first. An automatic grade deduction is then applied for grammatical errors (such as those listed in the “Guide to Common Writing Errors”). For every three errors, you will receive an automatic half-step grade reduction. The grade for an A- paper with five errors, for example, will be automatically reduced to a B+.

Disabilities and Personal Difficulties

Students with demonstrated disabilities are encouraged to speak with me to identify ways in which your disability may be accommodated, and to contact Disability Related Services, University Center, Room 310 (422-2613). Students experiencing any kinds of personal and/or academic difficulties are encouraged to utilize the free services of the Counseling Center, located on the ground floor of Gillson Hall (422-6352), which can assist you with interpersonal relationship problems, family difficulties, depression, stress, sexual concerns, substance abuse, time management, self-esteem, eating problems, anxiety, and acquaintance rape. Individual, couples, and group counseling are all available, as well as referrals for longer-term counseling or a more specialized approach.

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