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Surviving Catastrophic Times


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: a project report comprising a 3000-word literature review and 4000-word case study (100%)

Module description

'[S]urvival is not simply what remains; it is the most intense life possible' (Derrida, 2004).

Visions of catastrophic future events (climate-system collapse; pandemics; nuclear war) that undermine the very basis of survival saturate the public sphere. Past crises have ongoing legacies imprinted on institutional and public risk cultures. Together they give rise to a contemporary atmosphere of fearful anticipation, with profound implications for our public and political culture. Yet apocalyptic world endings have a history and a geography, and are unevenly disrupted. As we grapple with these multiple forms of producing, governing and resisting world endings, we will also consider how they intersect with proliferating concepts of ‘survival’: from survival entertainment and survival training, to species’ survival, to everyday survival in late modernity, taking in the diverse sites where different versions meet and mix. What is implied when life is said to have become a matter of ‘mere’ survival, and can we better capture the significance of living on, protecting, caring, struggling, enduring in the face of world endings? Does survival hold potential to show a future beyond endless growth, as we aim not to thrive, but survive?

In this module you will have the opportunity to critically explore the heart of emerging scholarship on environmental futures, taking intellectual stimulus from work in the social sciences and humanities, particularly critical, materialist and poststructuralist approaches. You will gain in-depth understanding of the ways in which catastrophic futures and notions of survival are structuring the contemporary, and are theorised, imagined, practised and experienced.

You will be given the theoretical tools to explore a case study of your choice relevant to your course.

Indicative syllabus

  • The histories and geographies of apocalypse
  • Contemporary catastrophes: the Anthropocene, neo-liberalism and crisis
  • Governing catastrophe: policy tropes of preparedness, resilience, emergency
  • Nature after the end of the world/post-natural theory
  • The politics of affective responses to extinction: grief, indifference, hope
  • Notions of ‘survival’ in social theory
  • Representations of survival in cultural and literary products
  • Subjectivities and cultures of survival
  • Survival materialities (emergency kit, survival architectures)

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • understand the significance and function of concepts of apocalypse, catastrophe, collapse, crisis and survival across a range of political, social and cultural contexts
  • understand key analytical approaches that engage with themes of environmental futures, catastrophe and survival
  • be able to critically evaluate policy and public responses to anticipated and alternative environmental futures
  • demonstrate research skills of applying theoretical frameworks and analytical tools to investigate relevant case studies.