Sustainable Development

Subject GEOG30019 (2016)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2016.

Credit Points: 12.5
Level: 3 (Undergraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2016:

Semester 1, Parkville - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period 29-Feb-2016 to 29-May-2016
Assessment Period End 24-Jun-2016
Last date to Self-Enrol 11-Mar-2016
Census Date 31-Mar-2016
Last date to Withdraw without fail 06-May-2016

Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 36 hour: 24 hours of lectures & 12 hours of tutorials
Total Time Commitment:

170 hours

Prerequisites: None
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: None
Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering request for Reasonable Adjustments under the Disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Student Support and Engagement Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Overview, Learning Outcomes, Assessment and Generic Skills sections of this entry.

It is University policy to take all reasonable steps to minimise the impact of disability upon academic study, and reasonable adjustments will be made to enhance a student's participation in the University's programs. Students who feel their disability may impact on meeting the requirements of this subject are encouraged to discuss this matter with a Faculty Student Adviser and Student Equity and Disability Support:


Dr Brian Cook


Subject Overview:

Everyone knows what ‘Sustainable Development’ is, but if you stop to think, it may become less clear. Sustainable development has become a chameleon, suiting different needs and fulfilling different roles for different people with different interests. In this subject, we will explore this appealing-yet-slippery idea with the aim of deciding whether it is a suitable concept with which to explore the cultural, environmental, and economic challenges facing society. Is sustainable development a useful idea, or do we need to move on?

In addition to the debates over sustainable development, this subject will provide students with the skills needed to examine, analyse, and report on challenges related to their interests. At its heart, the subject explores the primary question of sustainable development, which is whether it can be useful in a world (seemingly) approaching numerous catastrophic tipping points. The climate is changing, the oceans are acidifying, the soils cannot keep producing our food, and wealth is being concentrated amongst a smaller and smaller segment of the world. Is sustainable development helpful in understandings, and ideally changing, these trends?

There are also more practical considerations surrounding the debate over sustainable development. Some people might be interested in having a greater impact on the world through development projects, micro-credit, or volunteering. Is sustainable development helpful? Can the concept help individuals engaged in improving our world (or at least trying)? Does it help ensure that their efforts are beneficial and not perverted by wider interests and processes?

It is also worth considering if sustainable development might not be better thought of as an analytical framing: as a way of pulling apart problems or projects in order to better understand or assess their impact on ecological sustainability, development, or economics? Is sustainable development an analytical tool for making sense of ‘wicked’ problems?

In this subject we will review the history of sustainable development, which draws together literature from Geography, Sociology, Engineering, Psychology, Economics, and the Sciences. We will explore critiques of sustainable development, and force ourselves to consider whether it is possible, practical, or even useful in the ‘real world’. We will explore several key challenges, using sustainable development as a lens or framing. And finally and most creatively, we will attempt to reinterpret sustainable development in a world of growing inequality.

For more information see:

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this subject students will:

  • understand and be able to compare a range of theories related to sustainable development;
  • be able to apply numerous methods designed to critically engage with debates over sustainable development;
  • be familiar with different framings of sustainable development;
  • be able to synthesise competing interpretations and debates;
  • be aware of the complex processes and issues that are incorporated into debates and controversies of sustainable development;

  1. Quiz (10% of final mark): Each week, there will be an ‘online quiz’ (10 questions) due the evening prior to lecture. This will provide students with the opportunity to show their understanding of the weekly readings. A quiz on citation and referencing will precede submission of the short essay.
  2. Tutorial Question and Answer (20% of final mark): students are responsible for attending* and contributing to tutorial discussions. Drawing on the assigned reading for each week, students will develop a question for tutorial discussion.
  3. Essay Outline (15% of final mark): In the first half of term, students will develop an essay outline. In ‘bullet point’ or another agreed upon format approved by the co-ordinator, the (700 word) outline will show the student’s essay plan. The outline will communicate their argument, rationale, and sources.
  4. Short essay (15% of final mark): Following the mid-term break, students will submit a 700 word short essay. The topic will be supplied.
  5. Take home final exam (40% of final mark): Due June 9 th 2016, students will submit their final ‘take-home’ essay (1800 words). The topic will be provided on the final day of class.

A late penalty of 10%/day will be assessed on all late submissions.

All assessments will be marked for appropriate referencing and checked for plagiarism and for stylometry.

* This subject offers students a blended option, with lectures recorded and online tutorials available (note: students cannot move from online to in-person tutorials following the second week of class).

Prescribed Texts:


Breadth Options:

This subject potentially can be taken as a breadth subject component for the following courses:

You should visit learn more about breadth subjects and read the breadth requirements for your degree, and should discuss your choice with your student adviser, before deciding on your subjects.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:

Students who have completed this subject will:

  • be capable of thinking critically about issues relating to sustainable development;
  • be capable of developing a conceptual framework appropriate to understanding and interpreting problems relating to sustainability;
  • be able to learn research skills appropriate to understanding and interpreting issues and problems of sustainable development;
  • be able to write coherent and well-researched essays;
  • be capable of engaging in effective oral presentations.
  • Please note that this subject is only available to third year students.
  • Students enrolled in the BSc (both pre-2008 degree and new degrees), or a combined BSc course (except for the BA/BSc) may receive science credit on the completion of this subject.
Related Course(s): Master of Science (Geography)
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: Development Studies
Environmental Geographies, Politics and Cultures major
Environmental Geography
Environmental Studies
Environments Discipline subjects
Graduate Certificate in Arts - Development Studies
Human Geography
Human Geography
Human Geography
Human Geography
Integrated Geography
Integrated Geography
Integrated Geography
Integrated Geography
Science-credited subjects - new generation B-SCI and B-ENG.
Selective subjects for B-BMED
Related Breadth Track(s): People and Environment

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