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GEOG 1972 Environment-Society Geography

Instructor Contact:

Eric Reiff


Instructor Bio:

As a critical geographer I believe that all knowledge is political. It is therefore important that you know the perspective from which information is coming so you can be an informed and critical consumer of knowledge. Therefore, I will not try to hide that although many academics agree with my understanding of nature-society geography (including your text book) that there are other ways to understand how the world works. In fact I encourage you to challenge this course’s understanding of nature and society as part of your academic development.

The first step in thinking critically about this course is for you to know who I am as the instructor. I was born in the waning months of the Nixon administration in a small, conservative, almost exclusively white town in rural Indiana. I came of age during the end of the Cold War and the disillusionment of the Soviet Union. From an early age I developed a keen interest in how society conceptually frames nature, how this framing orders society, what this framing allows society to do to nature, and how nature plays an active role in shaping the way society metabolizes nature.

I developed this interest while working for my family’s construction company off and on between the ages of 14 to 31. These years spent building strip malls, factories, restaurants, and houses were punctuated by other formative adventures. I earned a BA in Biology from Hanover College where I was able to study biodiversity conservation in Malaysia, help develop a tropical biology course in Belize and Guatemala, and work in Switzerland for a summer on a student work visa. I also traveled throughout Europe during this time on several trips. My interest in the world took me to Lithuania as a Peace Corp volunteer where I taught English to high school students. My wife and I hosted a Russian and Japanese exchange student each for a year after we returned from Peace Corps. I also worked with Armenian refugees through Catholic Charities in Indiana.

I left my family’s construction company in 2005 to attend the Korbel School of International Relations at the University of Denver. From the Korbel School I earned an MA in Global Finance, Trade and Economic Integration in 2007. After this I worked for Wall Street on Demand in Boulder as a project manager. There I led projects developing websites for the financial industry. After three years back in the private sector my yearning to return to academia became too great to ignore and I began working on a PhD in Geography at University of Colorado at Boulder in 2010. My dissertation work critically examines the drivers behind the current resurgence of backyard urban food production in the United States. This project brings together my interests in nature-society relations, the subjectifying power of the global political economy, and people’s efforts to resist power through assertions of personhood and place-making in their backyards. More simply put, I’m exploring how backyard food production produces people and communities as well as sustenance.

About the Course:

The broad goals of this class are to increase your understanding of key contemporary environmental issues, particularly their social, cultural, and political-economic dimensions, and to introduce you to the ways in which the discipline of geography has approached the relationship between society and nature. The study of global and regional environmental issues evokes one of the most profound questions of our times: What is, and what ought to be, the relationship between humans and the environment? To answer this, we must also ask: What is “nature” and how do people of different cultures conceptualize it differently? What drives human modification of the earth and its non-human inhabitants, and how are specific groups of people differentially affected by these modifications? What kinds of assumptions have led to the creation of certain environmental problems, and for whom or what are they problems? Topics we will cover include anthropogenic climate change, population and consumption, environmental hazards, ethics, environmental justice, conservation, and food.


Throughout this course you will learn to:

  • Identify objects and natural and social components of the puzzles they present
  • Analyze nature-society puzzles through seven different analytical approaches
  • Appraise and contrast the value of each of these analytical lenses through application

Required Texts:

Environment and Society, 2nd Ed. by Paul Robbins, John Hintz, and Sarah Moore. (ISBN 978-1118451564).


  • 15% – 2 Position Papers
  • 35% – 6 Assignments
  • 15% – Term paper
  • 15% – Midterm
  • 20% – Final

There will be no extra credit opportunities for this course.

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Monday – Friday
7:30am to 4:30pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado