Course objectives

The rate and complexity of contemporary environmental change poses profound economic, social and political challenges. The MSc/MPhil in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance is grounded in the conviction that developing responses to these challenges demands intellectual rigour, innovation and flexibility, as well as the capacity to think across existing disciplinary boundaries.

To this end, the course draws on methods and approaches from across the social sciences, including human geography, science and technology studies, anthropology, environmental economics, and corporate environmental management, to help students develop theoretically sophisticated and empirically grounded understandings of the dynamic relations between environment, society, politics and governance.

A major feature of the course is the bespoke nature of the teaching provided; core lectures addressing key theoretical traditions and developments in the fields of environmental governance and nature-society relations, as well as in social science research design and research methods, are all specifically tailored to this Masters, with only a very small minority of classes being shared with students from other programmes. The course therefore provides for the development of a strong sense of a shared cohort identity and experience, which persists throughout the academic year.

Given its very strong focus on research skills development, the course serves as an ideal entry point for further advanced study, including at doctoral level, either at Oxford or elsewhere. But the course also seeks, through workshops, seminars and study days, to facilitate dialogue between researchers and practitioners addressing contemporary environmental issues, thereby developing students' understandings of the practices and challenges of policy and governance in the real world.

Specific objectives of the course include:

  • to provide broad and critical engagements with key debates in the environmental social sciences, focussing conceptually on the relationships between nature and society, science and politics, and on urban natures;
  • to foster an understanding of the applied practices of environmental policy and the challenges of real-world environmental governance, especially in the developed world;
  • to develop students' conceptions of, and skills in, the methods and practices of the contemporary environmental social sciences, providing critical foundations for further study by research;
  • to integrate students into world-leading research taking place in the School of Geography and the Environment, by providing core teaching and supervision by research-active staff; and
  • to enhance students' personal and professional development.

By the end of the Masters, students will have developed:

  1. A knowledge and critical understanding of key theoretical literatures from across the social sciences which engage in conceptual debates about Nature-Society, Science-Politics and Urban Natures;
  2. An ability to ground these conceptual frameworks in theories of Environmental Policy, Politics and Governance, including through detailed investigations of Decision Making Processes, Environmental Economics and Corporate Environmental Management;
  3. An ability to critically apply outcomes 1 and 2 to the analysis of a range of case studies of environmental governance in the real world;
  4. A knowledge and critical understanding of specialist topics consistent with a candidate's particular interests and expertise in relation to the research environment of the School;
  5. Practical skills in Research Design and Research Methods and analysis that are consistent with the field of human geography, including a critical awareness of research ethics.

Course description

The MSc/MPhil in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance comprises:

  • Nine core modules organised under three themes: Policy and Governance, Theory and Analysis, and Research Skills
  • Two elective modules for the MSc (or three for the MPhil)
  • An original research dissertation of 15,000 words (or a 30,000-word thesis for the MPhil)
  • Field courses in Oxford and the Netherlands
  • A series of occasional workshops, seminars and study days

For the MSc, the core assessed components of the course are three, 3-hour examinations (one on each of the course themes) (40%), two elective module essays (20%), and an original research dissertation (40%). All core modules and elective modules are taught in the first two terms of the academic year, leaving the third term clear for examinations and dissertation preparation. For more detailed information on course content, please see the MSc Course Handbook.

For the MPhil, the core assessed components of the course are three, 3-hour examinations (one on each of the course themes) (25%), three elective module essays (25%), and an original research thesis (50%). All core modules and two of the three elective modules take place in the first year of the course, whilst one further elective and the research thesis form the basis for the second year.

MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance *
1st Term (Michaelmas)2nd Term (Hilary)3rd Term (Trinity)
Governance, Politics & PolicyScience & PoliticsAmsterdam Field Trip
Nature & SocietyCorporate Environmental ManagementExams
Decision Making ProcessesUrban NaturesResearch Dissertation
Research DesignResearch Methods & Practice 
Economics of the Environment  
Elective Modules and Policy WorkshopsResearch Methods Surgeries

For more detailed information on course content, please see the Course Handbook.

* Please see the MPhil course handbook for more detailed information about the structure of the MPhil course.

Teaching methods and contact hours

The teaching is concentrated in the first two terms. The course is taught through a combination of lectures for core modules, small group teaching for elective courses (maximum class size 10), practical sessions, fieldtrips and study days. In each week, there are approximately 12-14 hours of formal contact time. For core modules, there are normally 8-10 hours of lectures per week, delivered through two-hour lecture sessions. Electives are normally delivered in 4-6 sessions across the term, each lasting 90 minutes to 2 hours. Individual extended reading is an important part of the course programme and up to 3 hours of reading may be set in preparation for each two-hour class. In weeks with fieldtrips or study days, the number of contact hours will be greater.

Economics of the Environment (MT): 8 classes

Module Leader: Dr Dustin Garrick

The 'Environmental Economics and Policy' module has been refined to the 'Economics of the Environment' module. The Economics of the Environment module equips MSc students in SoGE with the foundational concepts, methods and analytical tools to navigate the interface of economics and the environment across a range of contexts, scales and threats. In 2017-18, the module will be organised in two phases during Michaelmas term, leveraging the world-class interdisciplinary economic research and teaching across the School. Phase I covers the foundations of economics and the environment, examining the economic roots of environmental problems and providing a survey of economic approaches to environmental policy ranging from pricing to property rights. The second phase of the module shifts from foundations to applications, organising the students into specialised tracks tailored to each MSc with interactive lectures and exercises. The specialised tracks in phase II are problem-based, fostering critical examination and application of economics to environmental governance challenges.

Elective Modules

Elective Modules offer a tutorial-style teaching and discussion environment within smaller groups, based on a suite of contemporary research themes that reflect the specific interests of core faculty and visiting research associates. They involve eight hours of instruction that may be organised in different formats. Each student has the opportunity to identify elective modules of particular interest, though there is a selection process for these electives through committee at the start of term. As such, the teaching aim is to foster discussion and debate between academic staff and students to identify and explore theory, methods and practice in an academic space that encourages a critical dialogue.

Fuller details of our current range of electives are contained in our elective handbook. The portfolio of electives on offer may change from year to year.

Electives currently offered are listed below:

  • Analytical Skills in GIS
    Dr Robert Dunford, ECI
  • ASEAN Environments
    Dr Paul Jepson and Dr Mari Mulyani, SoGE
  • Behavioural Economics and Field Experiments
    Prof Bob Hahn, SSEE
  • Cities, Mobility and Climate Change
    Dr Tim Schwanen, TSU
  • Climate Change and Extreme Weather
    Prof Myles Allen, ECI
  • Climate Change, Communication and the Media
    Dr James Painter, Reuters Institute
  • Corporate Social and Environmental Accountability
    Prof Gordon L Clark, SSEE
  • Development, Environment and Health
    Dr Proochista Ariana, Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, and Katrina Charles, SoGE
  • The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
    Dr Erik Gómez-Baggethun, SoGE
  • Ecosystem Services for Development
    Dr Alex Morel and Dr Mark Hirons, ECI
  • Energy and the Environment
    Dr Chris Jardine and Dr Sarah Darby, ECI
  • Energy Policy
    Prof Nick Eyre, ECI
  • Environment and Development
    Dr Camilla Toulmin, IIED
  • Environmental Governance and Development
    Dr Ariell Ahearn, SoGE
  • Environmental Risk: Experts, Uncertainty, Publics
    Dr James Palmer, SoGE
  • Flood Risk Management
    Prof Edmund Penning-Rowsell, SoGE
  • The Forest Governance Group
    Dr Connie McDermott, ECI
  • Gender, Geography and the Environment
    Dr Carmen Hopkins and Dr Kerrie Thornhill, SoGE
  • Global Environmental Change and Food Systems
    Dr Rebecca White, ECI
  • Indigenous Peoples and the Environment
    Dr Tom Thornton, ECI
  • International Environmental Law
    Dr Catherine Mackenzie, SoGE
  • Multidisciplinary Environmental Research as a Social Process: The MaRIUS project
    Dr Catharina Landström, SoGE
  • Resiliency Thinking and Community Organising for Environmental Action
    Dr Paul Jepson, SoGE and Robert H. McNulty
  • Rewilding
    Dr Keith Kirby, Oxford Martin School
  • Tackling Climate Change: Innovation, Society and Policy
    Dr Rob Bellamy, InSIS
  • Transformations Towards Sustainability: Sharing Economy as the Lens
    Dr Yuge Ma, ECI
  • Urban Ecologies
    Dr Maan Barua, SoGE
  • Urban Water and Wastewater
    Dr David Johnstone, SoGE
  • Water, Climate and Society in the Middle East
    Dr Troy Sternberg, SoGE

Fuller details of our current range of electives are contained in our elective handbook.

Please note: The actual course content may vary from the information provided online and should therefore be taken to be indicative rather than tightly prescriptive.