C LIT 396 A: Special Studies in Comparative Literature

Spring 2021
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm / * *
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
ENVIR 439 A , CHID 480 B
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Course Syllabus: COMP LIT 396/CHID 480/ENVIR 439

Just Sustainability, Deep Sustainability

 Spring 2021                                                                        Professor Gary Handwerk

Tues/Thur 10:30-12:20; on-line, synchronous                Office: A-402 Padelford, 015G Wallace          

E-mail: handwerk@uw.edu                                                Office Hours: Th 1-3 PM and by appt.

Canvas Site: https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1448332   Office Phone 543-2183 or 616-1208

“David Brower’s [Brower gave shape to the modern Sierra Club] field, being the relationship of everything to everything else and how it is not working, is so comprehensive that no one can comprehend it.” (John McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid, 83)

About the course:

In many arenas, sustainability has become the banner of contemporary environmentalism, its capaciousness as a term allowing it serve a myriad of differing purposes and diverse, even contradictory agendas.  At the same time, the concept has been intensely contested, critiqued by those who see it as too closely tied to a status quo that remains unsustainable and inequitable in many of its fundamental processes and principles.  This class will be a collective exploration of some of the scientific, social and human dimensions of sustainability debates, with all of us working toward a shared understanding of what “sustainability” can and should mean in 2021…and beyond.

Sustainability, if we are to attain it, will be as much a state of mind as a set of behaviors or socio-political practices or technological capacities.  It will have to be a deep sustainability (in the sense given to deep ecology or deep decarbonization), that is, based upon a critical rethinking of premises that have been at the foundation of global modernization (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_ecology ).  It will also require systemic reshaping of the inequitable social and political structures that have contributed to a curiously modern sense of what counts as “progress.”  So it will have to be a just sustainability rooted in attentiveness to the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.  And finally, it must be more-than human, involving intense thoughtfulness about appropriate relationships between the human species and all else that exists in nature (see: https://www.etymonline.com/word/nature ). 

We will begin by posing definitional questions about what sustainability does and could mean, looking first at how we got to where we are (the global history of environmentalisms).  We’ll move on to what our collective present looks like (via a case study of the Alberta tar sands) and what our futures might be imagined and felt (emotionally) to be (Soper’s alternative hedonism; your choice of a novel or non-fictional narrative focusing upon Indigenous traditions in the United States).  After this collective reading and discussion, you will break into project groups taking up selected issues for further study such as climate change, environmental justice, extinction, environmental activism, governmental and intergovernmental reports and policies, and the emotions of the Anthropocene era.  We’ll add more possible topics as we proceed; you’re welcome to offer additional suggestions.

Coursework will include: 1) significant reading, 2) active synchronous and asynchronous discussions, 3) a personal journal on the topic of sustainability, 4) independent research producing an annotated bibliography, and 5) a collaborative final paper based on group projects.

Course Texts:

Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History

Matt Hern and Am Johal (with Joe Sacco), Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life

Kate Soper, Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism

Either Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony OR Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Plus articles posted on Canvas

Course Objectives:

  • Develop an understanding of various definitions of sustainability, the term’s origins and implications, and its relation to environmental justice
  • Understand the social construction of key terms in environmental rhetoric
  • Become familiar with environmental movements and key critiques of their aims and limits
  • Develop an awareness of how genre and rhetorical strategies shape how and how well environmental messages are communicated to target audiences
  • Reflect upon various, sometimes conflicting stances toward the “appropriate” relationships of human beings with and within their environments
  • Practice close reading skills, as applied to different varieties of texts (Four Principles of Narrative Analysis)
  • Encourage metacognitive reflection about writing, and practice selective adaption of writing to particular occasions, audiences and purposes
  • On-line objective: learning to participate actively and effectively in virtual discussion and project groups

Graded Work:

            Group project:                        60% of final grade

            Attendance, participation:      20% of final grade

            Sustainability journal:            20% of final grade

Journals: The writing journal will include several kinds of informal, ungraded writing.  Some pre-class e-posts (to Canvas discussion boards) will be responses to question prompts on the reading we will be covering for the next class, or involve modest on-line research on a related topic.  In-class writing will often be more personal in nature, reflective about your personal reflections about, or dealing with texts and topics from that specific day’s class.

Group Project: The group project will have two components, an individually created annotated bibliography of sources related to your group topic, as well as a collective essay making a case for the centrality of your topic to any sustainability course.  More details to come. 

Other Essential Information:

  1. The amount and the different kinds of writing you will be doing may make this a challenging course for you. In addition, the active close reading that I expect may be something that you have not had much occasion to practice.  Especially this quarter when we’re on-line, I encourage you to ask questions in class chat rooms and/or to contact me in on-line office hours for further help.  It is your responsibility to come to me with issues you feel are getting in the way of your effective learning.   
  2. Attendance and participation (in groups and in-class writing) are required. Moreover, they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. I will take attendance in on-line sessions and keep track of both your participation in on-line discussion groups and your e-journal to help me assess your performance.

Academic Integrity:

I assume that students will complete all assignments and other course components in good faith and by doing original work. The Student Conduct Code outlines various forms of academic misconduct, including (but not limited to):

  • Plagiarism
  • Submission of someone else’s work as your own
  • Multiple submissions of the same work in different courses without instructor permission
  • Engaging in behavior prohibited by an instructor
  • Unauthorized recording, and/or subsequent dissemination of instructional content

Failure to adhere to this code of ethics will result in referral for possible disciplinary action as described in the Student Conduct Code. You are ALWAYS expected to properly credit the ideas and words of others in your papers. Remember that plagiarism can include using someone else’s words without proper citation, using someone else’s words with citation but without quotation marks, and even paraphrasing that stays too close to the original source.

Disability Accommodations:

It is my goal to insure that our learning environment is accessible to everyone.  If you have a disability and need special accommodations for note-taking, deadlines or any other aspect of your coursework, please contact Disability Resources for Students, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY), uwdss@u.washington.edu.  If you have a documented disability, I will receive an e-mail from DRS that discusses necessary accommodations.  I am happy to work with you in any way that I can to facilitate your learning in this class! 

Religious Accommodations: 

Washington state law requires that UW have a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of the quarter using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion:

The University of Washington supports an inclusive learning environment where diverse perspectives are recognized, respected, and seen as a source of strength. In this course, we will strive to create welcoming spaces where everyone feels included and engaged regardless of their backgrounds and experiences.

Guidance to Students Taking Courses outside the US:

Faculty members at U.S. universities, including the University of Washington, have the right to academic freedom, which includes presenting and exploring topics and content that other governments may consider to be illegal and, therefore, choose to censor. Examples may include topics and content involving religion, gender and sexuality, human rights, democracy and representative government, and historic events.

If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdiction or how local authorities enforce those laws.


If you are taking this course outside of the United States, please exercise caution by examining the full syllabus, including all topics covered in lectures, readings, discussions, and assignments, to ensure you are in compliance with the laws of your local jurisdiction.


Course Calendar: COMP LIT 396/CHID 480/ENVIR 439

                                                   Just Sustainability, Deep Sustainability


March 30         -- Introduction: What is sustainability…and what isn’t it?; Vollmann, introduction to

                            Volume 1 of Carbon Ideologies (on Canvas course Web page)

April 1             -- Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic” (Canvas)

April 6             -- Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (pp. 1-62)           

April 8             -- Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (pp. 63-

April 13           -- Essays, to be determined (and posted on Canvas)

April 15           -- Hern & Johal, Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life (pp. 1-80)           

April 20           -- Hern & Johal, Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life (pp. 81-165)           

April 22           -- Essays, to be determined (and posted on Canvas) 

April 27           -- Kate Soper, Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism (pp. 1-76); Roberts,

                            “Wealthier People Produce more Carbon Pollution—Even ‘Green’ Ones” (Canvas)         

April 29           -- Kate Soper, Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism (pp. 77-185)

May 4              -- CHOICE READING: EITHER Silko, Ceremony or Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass  

May 6              -- EITHER Silko, Ceremony or Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

May 11            -- EITHER Silko, Ceremony or Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass    

May 13            -- Group Project Work

May 18            -- Group Project Work

May 20            -- Group Project Work           

May 25            -- Group Project Work           

May 27            -- Group Project Work           

June 1              -- Group Project Presentations          

June 3              -- Group Project Presentations          

June 10            -- Group Projects Due

Catalog Description:
Offered by visitors or resident faculty. Content varies.
Department Requirements Met:
Literature Elective
GE Requirements Met:
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated:
April 20, 2024 - 6:40 pm