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SP20300: The social science of climate change

[Page last updated: 18 October 2021]

Academic Year: 2021/2
Owning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Credits: 6 [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 120
Level: Intermediate (FHEQ level 5)
Semester 1
Assessment Summary: CW 100%
Assessment Detail:
  • Coursework 100% (CW 100%)
Supplementary Assessment:
SP20300C - Reassessment CW 100% (where allowed by programme regulations)
Aims: 1. To examine the concept of anthropogenic climate change and the reasons for action and inaction in response to scientific knowledge about its social and environmental implications.
2. To equip students with a range of social scientific theoretical perspectives on the relationship between scientific knowledge about climate change implications and public responses. This includes an ability to analyse local, national and international interests that perpetuates inaction, and the social dynamics that make policy and behaviour change difficult.
3. To analyse the distributional consequences of failure to take action and examine new concepts such as climate justice being developed to address this.
4. To examine social, economic and political responses to the problem such as solidarities and movements, and the creation and implementation of alternative visions and approaches to societal development.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of this unit, students will be able to:
1. Understand anthropogenic climate change as a concept and the social and political causes of its intractability as a societal problem.
2. Identify the political economy and policy dynamics of climate change policy at the local, national and international levels
3. Recognise the sociological and psycho-social dynamics associated with behaviour change
4. Be able to identify the distributional consequences of action and inaction and evaluate the concepts being promoted to address them.
5. Use social science disciplinary perspectives to analyse the social and political responses to climate change.
6. Deeper insight into the complex relationship between rationality and power.

* To think creatively and analytically.
* To communicate an argument.
* To evaluate others' arguments and research.
* To learn independently and be able to assess own learning needs (i.e. identify strengths and improve weaknesses in methods of learning and studying).
* To critically evaluate and assess research and evidence as well as a variety of other information.
* To synthesise information from a number of sources in order to gain a coherent understanding.
* Study & learning skills (note taking, avoiding plagarism, using the library, gathering and using information, constructing a bibliography, referencing).
* Basic ICT skills (word processing, email, using the web, use of VLEs).
* Interpersonal and communication skills.
* Essay research, preparation and writing skills.
* To construct a bibliography
* Essay writing skills.
* To manage time effectively and respond to changing demands.

Content: Topics for this unit may include (not a final list):
1. Introduction: The emergence of the concept of anthropogenic climate change as a global problem
* The basic science of climate change
* The emergence of the concept of anthropogenic climate change as a global problem
2. Topics in policy, politics and political economy of CC such as:
* Why scientific consensus does not lead to policy change
* The political economy of organized climate change denial
* The politics of the international climate policy architecture (UNFCCC; IPCC etc)
* Climate justice and inequalities: northern and southern perspectives
3. Sociological, anthropological and psycho social perspectives such as:
* Social processes of denial: why we don't talk about and/or take action on climate change; personal and social alienation and eco-psychological perspectives
* The challenges of change: psycho-social perspectives on behaviour change
* Grassroots responses: transnational climate movements and solidarities
4. The challenge of alternatives
* Tackling low carbon futures: technological or social change?
* Alternative visions: degrowth, prosperity without growth and wellbeing
5. Conclusion: a review of social scientific perspectives on climate change as a global problem.

Programme availability:

SP20300 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Social & Policy Sciences
  • UHSP-AFB22 : BSc(Hons) Criminology (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB22 : BSc(Hons) Criminology with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AFB21 : BSc(Hons) International Development with Economics (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB21 : BSc(Hons) International Development with Economics with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AFB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AFB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AFB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy (Year 2)
  • UHSP-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 2)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2021/22 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2022/23 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2021/22.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.