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Law, Nature, and Planetary Justice


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Professor Stewart Motha
  • Assessment: a 1000-word opinion piece (20%) and 3000-word summative essay (80%)

Module description

The extraction and trade in natural resources is one of the key drivers of global trade, conflict, and environmental degradation. This module will examine the conceptual frameworks and legal underpinnings of ‘natural resource’ extraction. Instituting hierarchies between life/non-life, human/non-human, and the distinction between natural/cultural have been central to sustaining the untrammelled exploitation of what is deemed to be inert and part of nature. By challenging these distinctions, and by examining case studies of mining and harvesting, this module develops critical perspectives for understanding the legal, social and political formations that govern the extraction of ‘natural resources’.

The module is taught by deploying diverse theoretical frameworks to examine case studies of resource extraction, their regulation, and movements that resist these.

Indicative module syllabus

  • What are 'natural resources'? Examining the origins of the distinction between physis/nomos, and life/non-life
  • Regulatory extractive economies: municipal and international laws
  • Critical frameworks and postcolonial and indigenous perspectives on ‘natural resources’
  • Case study: Iron-ore mining - Australia
  • Case study: Copper mining - Bougainville
  • Case study: Phosphate mining - Nauru and Christmas Island
  • Case study: Under-sea resources - Arctic
  • Case study: Matsutake mushrooms - post-industrialisation and the movement of peoples
  • Global trade and extractive economies

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • critically evaluate the notion of 'natural resources'
  • understand and explain how international regimes of governance have developed in relation to 'natural resources'
  • understand and critically evaluate the legal regimes that govern particular instances of 'natural resource' extraction
  • draw on theoretical and interdisciplinary materials to analyse instances of 'natural resource extraction
  • develop an understanding of the range of social and political problems that arise out of extractive economies driven by the exploitation of 'natural resources'.