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PhD course

Political Ecology of Land and Food Systems

  • ECTS credits5
  • Teaching semesterSpring
  • Course codeGEO903
  • Resources

Main content

Course description

Language of instruction


Course content

For several decades, scholars in the interdisciplinary field of political ecology have critically engaged questions of asymmetric power relations, inequalities, and injustices in the governance of various land and food systems. Building upon classic works including Michael Watts´ (1983) Silent Violence: Food, Famine, and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria and Piers Blaikie´s (1985) The Political Economy of Soil Erosion in Developing Countries, many of these contributions highlight how social, political, and economic inequalities shape the production and the distribution of food, as well as the governance of the ecosystems and landscapes upon which such production ultimately depends.

In short, these early thematic foci in political ecology have never been more relevant. This is particularly so in the context of resurgent food and energy prices, war and geopolitical contestation, supply chain disruptions, and mounting global competition for land, ocean space, minerals, water, and other resources. Under such conditions, efforts to both sustainably and equitably feed growing populations must nonetheless also address global challenges related to climatic change, biodiversity decline, and zoonotic-epidemiological crises, all of which remain inextricably entangled with the global political ecology of our contemporary land and food systems.

Accordingly, the primary objective of this PhD course is to foreground connections between past and present debates concerning the governance of land and food systems within political ecology and related fields. In doing so, the course aims to foster advances in the state of the art on these themes by supporting, enriching, and sharpening emerging research amongst an incipient "next generation" of PhD candidates, postdoctoral fellows, and other early career scholars interested in engaging political ecology as a field of study.

In the "cross-pollinating" spirit of the international Political Ecology Network (POLLEN), the course is explicitly interdisciplinary in orientation. As such, it aims to encourage dialogue between political ecology and related disciplines and fields that address relevant research foci. These include, inter alia, geography, anthropology, agronomy, agroecology, critical agrarian studies, land change science, fisheries science, global health and nutrition, conservation studies, development studies, and sustainability science. The inherent pluralism and interdisciplinarity of this approach will be reflected in the diversity of course readings, invited speakers or lecturers, and the nature of the support and feedback offered to participants.

The course will culminate in a series of nine lectures, three student-led seminars, and a final plenary event held over the course of four days (Tuesday 30 May - Friday 02 June 2023).

Lectures include keynotes by Professor Emeritus Michael Watts (University of California, Berkeley) and Professor Nancy Peluso (University of California, Berkeley), as well as seven other talks from senior academics working on research foci related to the course themes. In addition, PhD students will participate in three breakout sessions, during which they will receive feedback on course papers from designated lecturers, as well as from their peers.

A final plenary event will feature a keynote presentation by Prof. Watts on his 1983 classic Silent Violence: Food, Famine, and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria, followed by a roundtable discussion. In total, the course will entail approximately 20-25 hours of teaching and seminar exercises.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Critically reflect upon both seminal and ground-breaking research themes at the intersection of political ecology, critical agrarian studies, and environmental governance.
  • Analyze contemporary empirical dynamics in land and food systems through the lens of relevant theoretical debates in political ecology.
  • Further enhance their academic writing and presentation skills, leveraging feedback from both senior academic colleagues and early career research peers.

Study period

Tuesday 30 May - Friday 02 June 2023

Credits (ECTS)


Specific terms

Course registration and deadlines

Course application deadline: 1 March 2023

Please register here

Recommended previous knowledge

Master's degree in geography, anthropology, environment and development studies, or a related discipline. Most applicants should already be enrolled in a PhD programme in one of the latter disciplines or a related field.

Compulsory Requirements

In advance of the course, all participants seeking to earn 5 ECTS credits must complete the following activities:

  • Read the course syllabus (2-4 articles per lecture x 9 lectures in total, ca. 500-700 pages of literature)
  • Draft and submit a course paper (ca. 5000-6000 words)
  • Read and prepare comments on the draft papers of colleagues in breakout group sessions (3 PhD students and 1 lecturer per breakout group).

Form of assessment

Course paper

Who may participate

Current PhD students, Post-Doctoral Fellows, and other Early Career Researchers (ECRs)

Additional information


See attached course description document for a detailed overview of the course context, thematic focus, schedule, learning objectives, and forms of assessment.


Anne-Kathrin Thomassen Anne-Kathrin.Thomassen@uib.no

Academic responsibility

Connor Cavanagh, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Bergen, connor.cavanagh@uib.no


Connor Cavanagh (University of Bergen)

Peter Andersen (University of Bergen)

Ragnhild Overå (University of Bergen)

Anwesha Dutta (Chr. Michelsen Institute)

Tor A. Benjaminsen (Norwegian University of Life Sciences)

Teklehaymanot Weldemichel (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Mariel Aguilar-Støen (University of Oslo)

Michael Watts (UC Berkeley)

Nancy Peluso (UC Berkeley)

Reading list

Course syllabus consists of 2-4 articles per lecture x 9 lectures in total, ca. 500-700 pages of literature

Course location

Bergen Global, Bergen, Norway


Study period

Tuesday 30 May - Friday 02 June 2023