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About the NSEG course

Course objectives

The MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance (MSc NSEG or NSEG) is grounded in the conviction that responding to contemporary global challenges demands intellectual rigour, innovation and flexibility. Some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time have politics intensely at their core, interwoven with the complexities of historical institutions, social practices, beliefs and material infrastructures. Understanding these complex phenomena requires multiple perspectives and the ability to think across disciplinary boundaries. Over the year, you will encounter a broad range of expertise from human and political geography, anthropology, science studies, the environmental humanities and environmental sciences. The overarching objective is not to offer a singular view of nature, society, or governance, but to present a set of theoretical and practical insights alongside scholarly debates which are alive and in flux.

This course will enable you to develop a theoretically sophisticated and empirically grounded understanding of the dynamic relations between environments and societies. Students should expect to engage with theoretical material and deconstruct some of the basic assumptions underpinning terms like 'society', 'governance', 'environment' and 'nature' to develop conceptual tools to understand contemporary global change. This is not an 'environmental policy' programme - it is a programme that will prepare you to grapple with contemporary global challenges from the perspectives of critical social theories informed by a range of disciplines.

Course aims/objectives:

  • To provide broad and critical engagements with key debates in the environmental social sciences, focusing on the relations between nature, society, and environmental governance.
  • To foster an understanding of the politics of environmental knowledge claims, how such claims are formulated and asserted, and their effects in practice.
  • To develop students' conceptions of, and skills in, the methods and practices of contemporary environmental social sciences, providing critical foundations for further research.
  • To integrate students into world-leading research taking place in the School of Geography and the Environment, providing core teaching and supervision by research-active staff.
  • To enhance students' personal and professional development.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify and evaluate key theoretical approaches from the social sciences (especially human geography) through which to understand environment-society relations.
  2. Apply concepts from a range of critical social theories to appraise and analyse environmental knowledge claims, governance practices and environmental/social outcomes.
  3. Design qualitative research projects, select and implement appropriate research methodologies, and produce research outputs in a variety of formats.
  4. Explain and synthesize analyses of environmental contexts in written and oral formats to persuade and inform professional and public audiences.

Course structure

The MSc is organised according to three themes: (i) Multiple Natures; (ii) Environment, Politics and Justice, and (iii) Research Skills. It is assessed through a series of written coursework assignments and presentations (live/recorded) that are staged in four portfolios due at different stages of the year of study, culminating in an independent research dissertation (15,000 words).

Teaching takes place through lectures and seminars which provide in-depth exploration of key environmental issues. Students are required to engage in significant periods of self-study to prepare for lectures/seminars and to consolidate learning. Field trips are also an important component of the teaching delivery and include an induction field course in the UK and a residential field course.

The MSc is organised into six core modules: (1) Social Theory for the Anthropocene; (2) Environment, Governance and Politics; (3) Environmental Justice; (4) Science & Politics; (5) Research Design; (6) Research Methods and Practices.

Elective modules

These offer a teaching and discussion environment within smaller groups, based on a suite of contemporary research themes linked to the themes of the course, that reflect the specific interests of core faculty and visiting research associates. 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 available from the Course Co-ordinator. The portfolio of electives on offer may change from year to year.


An independent and original dissertation is an integral component of the course. In order to equip you with the necessary skills to undertake high quality research, a suite of training activities is offered to develop key transferable skills in order for you to be able to execute high quality independent and original research. The dissertation will expose you to applied research methods used widely in academic and professional research.


The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the School of Geography and the Environment and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the School of Geography and the Environment. Students will usually have 8 hours of supervision.


The programme consists of eight summative assessments which use a diverse range of methods including written assignments, oral presentations, a fieldwork report, a research proposal and final dissertation.

Residential field trips

As a research-driven Masters, fieldwork represents a core element of the teaching philosophy of NSEG. As part of the MSc there are two compulsory field courses that aim to provide grounded, critical engagements with core empirical and theoretical themes of the course, and to develop students' research skills and competence with methods and practices appropriate to the contemporary environmental social sciences.

Induction field course: Oxford and the surrounding area (October)

The specific aims of this field course are to enable students and key teaching staff to get to know each other, and to introduce the structure and core themes of the course.

Residential research field course: (April or May)

The specific aims of this field course are:

  • To provide students with practical experience of designing, implementing and presenting the results of a small-scale, environmental social science research project
  • To develop students' awareness of the challenges of applying qualitative research methods to a specific, real-world problem
  • To enable students to critically examine the politics and governance of key environmental issues in a specific context

In addition to these two field courses, students are also expected to engage in a significant period of fieldwork (or desk-based study) as part of the research dissertation component of the course. Appropriate instruction and supervision will be offered to help students with planning, risk assessment, and ethical approval for this fieldwork.

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.