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Environmental Science

Also relevant for Sustainability Science

Course: Sustainability Science , Environmental Science
Group of courses: Engineering


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Course objectives:

Students should learn to critically analyse and evaluate the concepts, methods, scientific approaches, procedures and findings of environmental and sustainability research from a gender perspective. They should be taught the basic premises of a gender-oriented philosophy of natural science, environmental, technological and sustainability research. The aim is to enable students to understand the significance of the category of gender (and other social differentiations such as class and ethnicity) for the analytical and evaluative procedures employed in environmental science, and their importance for generating concepts, strategies and programmes on environmental and sustainability policy. Students should be able to apply this understanding to the findings of their own academic work. The central teaching and course objectives are thus critical and reflective faculties as a basis for enabling students to carry out independent scientific study on interdisciplinary subjects and research fields in environmental and sustainability science, taking the findings of women's and gender studies into account.

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Teaching content/subject-specific gender studies content:

Understanding the interconnections and interactions between natural and gender relations in society is central for explaining the significance of gender as a category in the environmental sciences. For the formulation of course content, this means that alongside application-oriented questions of critical environmental research from a gender perspective (e.g. in subject areas such as material streams and products, resource planning and conservation management), students should gain a basic understanding of how gender can be used as a critical-analytical and conceptional category in environmental science. This involves the following:

  • Recognising the influence of society and gender on the focus, methods and processes of research. In ecological, environment-related contexts, for example, this would mean integrating social inequalities and the power relationships (dichotomies/hierarchies) connected with them particularly unilateral gender ascriptions (dichotomies) into the analysis of causes and the search for solutions.
  • Using gender as an "eye opener": new perspectives of environmental studies and implementing the need to integrate gender into sustainable development; integrating eco-scientific and social science/humanities knowledge.
  • Recognising and identifying implicit and explicit gender references in different areas of environmental sciences and sustainability science: implicit (hidden) gender aspects refer to structural symbolic dimensions of gender relations, e.g. to men and women's tacit possibilities for influencing and shaping the areas of production and consumption. Explicit gender aspects refer to differences between men and women as social groups and with regard to their differing use of resources.

Women's and gender studies have made the following main contributions to the area of philosophy of science:

  • The history and critique of natural sciences, particularly biology/ecology, showing how past and existing gender relations are inscribed in the formation of theory and in methods of generating knowledge of 'nature'
  • Critical reflection of the category of objectivity in the (natural) sciences
  • Critical approaches to knowledge generation from a gender perspective ("standpoint approaches", subject positions, "situated knowledge")
  • Sex-gender difference and its significance for knowledge generation in environmental sciences
  • Disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in gender studies and environmental/sustainability sciences gender as an integrative perspective
  • Theories on teaching approaches for nature and society, gender as a cross-sectional dimension of socio-ecological research

Women's and gender studies have made the following main contributions to the area of environmental sciences and its applications:

  • Subjectivity of theories of social and natural sciences, methods and knowledge in this type of research (e.g. linking technological and risk research and research on everyday knowledge and skills)
  • Approaches to the history, sociology and philosophy of technology that enable insights into the "gendered nature" of technologies and the social aspects of technological change with regard to social differentiations (e.g. effects of new technologies on the activities of women and men in paid and unpaid work)
  • Approaches to material streams, technology and product development that make critical reference to the division between development/construction/production and use/consumption (e.g. critical analysis of ecologically-oriented material stream analyses and approaches to material stream management, ecological balances, LCA, etc. with regard to the gender ascriptions inscribed in them); integration of women's and men's everyday knowledge into technology and product development
  • Approaches to critical analysis of environmental policy concepts, strategies and measures (e. g. waste management and disposal) with regard to their different effects on women and men
  • Gender-differentiated empirical studies on environmental consciousness and behaviour of women and men (e.g. lifestyles and consumption, time patterns and time use)

The field of sustainability science overlaps with many of the above topics in philosophy of science (e.g. interdisciplinarity, teaching approaches to relations between nature and society) and environmental science. However, the political discourse on sustainability and scientific sustainability research also has additional explicit aspects of gender discourse (and vice versa: gender studies offers its own positions on sustainability). These go beyond the teaching content outlined above and strengthen the integrative perspective of socio-ecological aspects based on gender as a category. The following contributions of gender-oriented sustainability studies are of interest:

  • Theoretical and conceptional work on sustainability/sustainable development: e.g. eco-feminism, sustainable livelihood, precautionary economics, gender & environment as a cross-sectional dimension of socio-ecological research, (re)productivity as a category of gender-oriented sustainability research
  • Participative theory of sustainable development (extending the concept of participation in the sustainability debate to include the issue of context-related knowledge production "socially robust knowledge production")
  • Gender-oriented analysis of processes of sustainability policy on the international, national, regional and local levels (Agenda 21, national/regional sustainability strategies, Local Agenda 21)
  • Gender-oriented empirical studies (e.g. how the men and women involved can integrate their own ideas into conservation processes and environmental and sustainability policies)

Students should be given the opportunity to gain additional methodological skills, over and above those used in environmental and sustainability science. These skills should enable them to integrate the category of gender (and other social differentiations such as social stratum and ethnicity) into environmental analyses and evaluation processes, plus the concepts, strategies and programmes of environmental and sustainability policy, for example. This means teaching the following methodologies:

  • Methods of gender mainstreaming in environment-related fields (e.g. Gender Impact Assessment (GIA) for assessing the effects of political measures on women, men and gender relations; the "3 R Method" for systematically gathering information on the implementation of gender mainstreaming in one area; Gender Budgeting for implementing gender-sensitive budget analyses and for analysing the effects of budgets on personnel and their targets)
  • Gender-sensitive methods and procedures of communication, participation and mediation
  • Situation/deconstruction/reconstruction analyses as a gender-analytical approach ("three-step analysis")

The above subject areas are not closed areas of research. There have been many recent contributions and studies on gender-oriented approaches to resource planning and management. These represent initial strategies for example, a strategy for implementing sustainable/precautionary water use, a strategy for gender-sensitive research and policy design in the field of energy supply and emission protection, or an approach to the possible gender-specific effects of the European emission trading system. Current work also includes gender-oriented approaches in the area of conservation, conservation design and management, e.g. on gender-coded ideas of what is worth conserving or on the relevance of gender aspects for work in environmental and conservation associations and organisations. There has also been recent work in the field of socio-ecological research, analysing environmental problems with interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches and integrative aims, and placing them in the context of society and nature.

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Integration of gender studies content into the curriculum:

Gender issues cut across many different areas. The findings of women's and gender studies and gender perspectives should therefore be integrated into all environmental science modules. In natural science modules, both the basics of critical scientific theory from the gender perspective (e.g. "objectivity") and discipline-specific positions of scientific theory from women's and gender studies should be taught. We also recommend integrating the above content in project-oriented teaching.

The following specific gender modules should also be offered:

  • "Sustainability & gender relations" module: The political and scientific background to the connection between gender relations, environmental studies and sustainability studies
  • "Environmentally and gender-sensitive development/product use" module: This investigates different strands of research on sustainable consumption, material stream management and integrated product policy, as starting points for a precautionary approach to natural resources
  • "Gender-oriented theory of science and technology" module: Critical reflection on technology research that appears to be wholly scientific and objective. This can involve social-constructivist analyses providing insights into the gendered nature of technology theories and studies and addressing social aspects of technological change.

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Degree Stage:

The above content should be mainly integrated into basic (Bachelor's) degrees. The "Sustainability and gender relations" module should be part of the first year of the degree, depending on the design of the particular course. The other modules should be taught from the second and third year. The content should ideally be dealt with in more detail in Master's degrees, particularly in the form of project-oriented teaching modules.