Sustainability & Society (SS)

1. Course Rational and Direction

From climate change, renewable energy, diverse environmental values, sustainable cities to resilient societies, we currently face increasingly complex matters and challenges.

The “Sustainability and Society (SS)” track attempts to address these key contemporary issues concerning both environment and society, emphasizing the importance of understanding the co-production of Nature, Culture and Society. Thus our analytical approach starts from a more-than-human perspective to explore the multi-layer relationship among environments, energy , technoscience, urban cities and spaces.

We aim to equip students with the knowledge and competencies for an in-depth understanding of the root causes of problems facing us, to mitigate environmental risks, and explore the potential for civic participation and how to hold public accountability. The “Sustainability and Society” track covers various topics, incorporating diverse approaches of social sciences and interdisciplinarity. Building on such foundational knowledge, the  “Sustainability and Society” track is structured around four main themes —relationships between science, technology, and society; values and conflicts in contemporary environmental issues; spaces, places, and their connections; and global civil society—around them we developed theme-based courses.


2. Specialized Course Design

The “Sustainability and Society” track’s course design is conducted in two phases. In the first and second years, students will build up a multidisciplinary social science foundation, including mandatory courses: Introduction to Global Studies in the first year and Research Methods in the second year, along with anthropology, sociology, human geography, and science and technology studies.

This foundation will cultivate students’ sensitivity to various aspects such as environment, materiality, knowledge, technology, urbanism, and space; and prepare them for advance thematic courses designed for third and fourth year students, including Technoscience, Society & Culture, Technoscience, Society & Controversies, Sustainable Development and Urban Politics and Design for Social Innovation. These courses not only establish a multilayered understanding of environmental sustainabilities and the complicity of society for students; they also provide methodologies to develop practical skills through in-depth analysis, interdisciplinary dialogue, innovative problem-solving, and hands-on Capstone project.

SS Capstone Projects/ Specialized Research


This is an introductory course to the concept and theories of culture for undergraduate students. It examines the history of ideas that have governed how cultural anthropologists understand human differences and similarities, as well as the forms of anthropological writing that govern the ways we do analysis. It introduces students to core conversations and concerns that have animated the discipline. We will look at both canonical and contemporary texts that chart how these conversations and concerns have emerged and changed as cultural anthropologists have sought to understand human life in both familiar and unfamiliar contexts.

Technoscience and Contemporary Society

This course introduces students to the sociological study of technoscience and society. You will explore and analyze what it means to live in a contemporary technological society. A major goal will be to answer several questions:


(1) What are the social, structural, and cultural influences on our behavior, attitudes, and technological change?

(2) What are the sources, dynamics, and consequences of social inequality and our organization? and

(3) What are the implications of materials and technology for social change? We’ll then discuss fundamental social processes and concepts—culture, organization and management, social identity, and social interaction.


In the later part of the semester, you will study how technology and society have been intertwined. While technology has always been an intricate part of any society, in the second half of the 20th-century technological change became a defining characteristic of the way societal structures, and technological politics are constituted and organized. In this part, you will investigate and unravel this distinctive condition. You will study different areas where questions about technology’s role in society are central: economy, transportation, and corporation. In this course, you will learn that technological development is not just about technology.

Human Geography

This course aims to develop an understanding of human geography that could help students better navigate and make sense of the complex interactions between society and the environment in our daily life. The course is divided into three parts. The first part is the construction of basic concepts of human geography. We will explore the workings of power in space, or the power-rights debate in space, from the theoretical perspectives of time, territory, identity, mobility and gender. The second part of the course, “Diverse Geographies”, we will read together the geographical analysis in a variety of themes. In Part III, “Translocal Classroom,” students will conduct thematic urban exploration experiment that combines on-site spatial observation, analysis, theoretical reading, and a variety of tools.

To summarize, this course will cover four themes:

  1. Key concepts, explanatory frameworks, and practices in human geography;
  2. How these geographical theories and concepts inform our everyday life and help us better understand the causes and formations of inequalities;
  3. Geographical approaches to navigate the diversity of sites, spaces, and places and their representations;
  4. How are infrastructures, resources, bodies, and natures organized and interacting to create diverse places and ecologies.

Sustainable Development and Urban Politics

This course explores the urban politics of sustainable development, with a focus on climate change. This course consists of four closely related units. In the first unit, we will explore together the key forces shaping the politics of sustainability in global realms. This will lead us to explore the following three interrelated units in urban sustainability actions, including Agenda & Transition, Metrics, and Action. In the second unit, we will discuss sustainable urban agendas and globally transferred paradigmatic imaginaries driven by different human and non-human actors, such as compact cities, Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), smart cities, and zero-carbon transitions. Related to this, in the third unit, we will discuss what policy tools, ratings, standards, and markets of public/collective concern have been adopted in sustainable urban governance? How do these create friction or discrepancies with urban realities across different geographies? Finally, in the fourth unit, we will examine the development of innovative urban practices, actions, solutions, and imaginaries that are reshaping our lives, based on different epistemologies, imaginaries, and drivers across scales. 

Anthropocene and Geopolitics

Since the 1970s, the social sciences have undergone an “environmental turn” as many scholars have attempted to adapt their theoretical and methodological tools to better respond to the growing environmental crisis. Environmental and political issues are important topics for social science and Science and Technology Studies (STS), not only because of the urgency of the environmental problems facing modern society but also because the social study of the environment has opened up a highly interconnected web of social, cultural, and political controversies involving competing professional knowledge, social organisation, notions of progress, modernity, and debates over freedom and justice within democracy. In addition, the focus of this course acknowledges a “planetary turn”. The advent of the Anthropocene means that the cumulative impact of the human species on the Earth system as a whole now exceeds the influence of key geological forces, making humans one of the major driving forces behind geological or geophysical change. The Earth has left the Holocene era and entered a new geological epoch, the characteristics of which are yet to be defined and explored in this course. This not only places the humanities and social sciences at the centre of understanding the Earth’s fate but also challenges social scientists to imagine how large-scale environmental politics can be intertwined with art exhibitions.

This course explores several basic challenges that exist within the visions of a sustainable society and examines the claim of low-carbon transition from different perspectives, such as technological, institutional, and political-economic. Firstly, it will start with a review of the understanding of sustainability and ask what the underlying conceptualisation of Nature is in this encompassing term. What are the different and sometimes competing strategies to achieve sustainability? A historical relationship between Nature and Society follows, pointing out that nature is not an existing entity that is just over there. The concept of “Nature” is actively constructed by modern society through ideas such as conservation and natural history. Secondly, it explores the theme of environmental politics and governance, foregrounding the institutional and power effects of environmental issues such as the politics of Climate Change. Lastly, we are going to discuss the buzzing term, Anthropocene, the scientific controversy, and the social and cultural implications it brings to contemporary social studies on planetary Earth.

Global Civil Movements

This course will provide an overview of the contemporary socio-political landscape of the global civil movements. We will explore together some of the key concepts and theoretical-praxis frameworks of global civil society, trans-local and international social movements. The course is constituted of three components.

  1. Lectures: First, we will focus on the spectrum of ‘global citizenship movements’. The readings are drawn from the fields of political anthropology, sociology, geography, cultural studies and political science. Together we will explore and consider critical theories of ‘social justice’, ‘debt’, ‘violence’, ‘commons/commoning’, ‘civil disobedience’ and ‘mass politics’ to further develop a basic understanding of global citizenship/social movements.
  2. Theme-based Talks: Second, we will extend the above concepts to different issues and relational realms of global civil movements, including: democratisation movements; global debt cancellation movement; climate change, environmental conservation and anti-pollution movements; indigenous movement; anti-war and peace movements; farmers’ movements; labour  movements (including migrant workers); citizenship (migrant, diaspora, and refugee) movements; anti-free trade movements; co-op movement; corporate social responsibility movement; women’s rights and LGBTQ movements; and urban social movements. This component will feature theme-based live/online talks with leading activists and researchers on a variety of topics, accompanied by materials such as videos, reviews or academic papers.
  3. Workshops: The aim of these theme-based workshops is to synthesise the readings and lectures, and through case studies shared by students, to analyse the current landscape, mobilisation practices, debates and ethics of transnational-local activism at the intersection of old and new elements such as digital technology, social media, nationalism and affective politics.

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