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2018/2019  KAN-CCMVI2079U  Critical Perspectives on Sustainability

English Title
Critical Perspectives on Sustainability

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
Duration Summer
Start time of the course Summer
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Max. participants 60
Study board
Study Board for MSc in Economics and Business Administration
Course coordinator
  • Matthew Archer, Assisant Professor, Copenhagen Business School, mbar.msc@cbs.dk
    Matthew Archer - Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC)
For academic questions related to the course, please contact the course instructor.

Other academic questions: contact academic director Sven Bislev at sb.msc@cbs.dk
Main academic disciplines
  • CSR and sustainability
  • Cultural studies
Teaching methods
  • Face-to-face teaching
Last updated on 29-05-2019

Relevant links

Learning objectives
To achieve the grade 12, students should meet the following learning objectives with no or only minor mistakes or errors:
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of sustainability as both a theory/concept and in practice
  • Be able to distinguish between sustainability and greenwashing based on a real-world cases
  • Demonstrate an understanding of qualitative methods used in political ecology and environmental anthropology and their relevance for sustainability research and practice
  • Be able to critically assess corporate sustainability reports and media coverage of corporate un/sustainability
Course prerequisites
Bachelor degree in the Social Sciences; a basic familiarity with corporate sustainability would be advantageous
Critical Perspectives on Sustainability:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 15 pages
Assignment type Project
Duration Written product to be submitted on specified date and time.
Grading scale 7-step scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Summer, Ordinary exam: Home Assignment: 25/26 June - 29 July 2019. Please note that exam will start on the first teaching day and will run in parallel with the course.
Retake exam: Home Assignment: 72-hour home assignment: 8-11 October 2019 – for all ISUP courses simultaneously
3rd attempt (2nd retake) exam: 72-hour home assignment: 25-28 November 2019 – for all ISUP courses simultaneously

Exam schedules available on https:/​/​www.cbs.dk/​uddannelse/​international-summer-university-programme-isup/​courses-and-exams
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Retake exam: 72-hour home project assignment, max. 10 pages, new exam question
Exam form for 3rd attempt (2nd retake): 72-hour home project assignment, max. 10 pages, new exam question
Course content and structure

This course introduces students to corporate sustainability, sustainable finance, and sustainable development through the lens of critical social sciences like environmental anthropology and political ecology. Each lecture is focused on a different scandal (such as the BP oil spill and Volkswagen’s emissions test cheating) in order to draw out themes that are central to discourse around sustainability.


At the beginning of the course, students will be divided into groups that will act as “sustainability managers” in the company that the lecture covers. After a lecture on the week’s scandal and a discussion of the assigned readings, the class will do group work before the team representing the week’s scandalized company starts the class discussion about the role of sustainability in their company in the context of the scandal. Students will be expected to reflect critically on the questions raised in the readings and lecture. Class discussions will make reference to dominant sustainability frameworks such as the Global Compact and the Sustainable Development Goals.


For the mini project, students will choose a company or scandal not covered in the course and write a paper analyzing corporate sustainability reports and media discourse around the scandal and different stakeholders' responses to it. The final product will be a paper that critically examines the scandal, drawing on the literature covered and discussed in the class.


Preliminary assignment: Read Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (Wallace and Wray)

Class 1: Introduction: Global sustainability initiatives (SDGs, Global Compact, PRI) and their critics

Class 2: The Political Ecology of Corporate Sustainability

Class 3: Volkswagen emissions scandal (trust and responsibility)

Class 4: San Lu Group (Arla Foods) powdered milk scandal (multi-national sustainability, the state)

Class 5: Newmont Mining (community / "stakeholder" engagement)

Class 6: Lightening Talks (3-4 minutes each) about student projects Feedback activity: The course instructor will provide oral and written feedback based on each student's lightening talk

Class 7: Syngenta's "seeds of debt" and Monsanto farmer treatment (CSR in developing countries, knowledge and power, corporate identity)

Class 8: Nestlé slave labor (measuring impact and progress)

Class 9: Union Carbide Bhopal disaster (temporalities of sustainability)

Class 10: Danske Bank money laundering scandal (limits of sustainability)

Class 11: BP oil spill (externalities) and course review


Description of the teaching methods
The course is based on lectures, case studies, group work and class discussions. Cases will be presented alonside media reports and relevant tcheoretical/empirical academic texts.
Feedback during the teaching period
The course instructor will meet individually with students during office hour to discuss their individual mini-projects and will provide written feedback on their lightening talks.

All Home Project Assignments/mini projects are based upon a research question (problem formulation) formulated by the students individually, and must be handed in to the course instructor for his/her approval no later than 11 July 2019. The instructor must approve the research question (problem formulation) no later than 16 July 2019. The approval is a feedback to the student about the instructor's assessment of the problem's relevance and the possibilities of producing a good report.
Student workload
Preliminary assignment 20 hours
Classroom attendance 33 hours
Preparation 126 hours
Feedback activity 7 hours
Examination 20 hours
Further Information

Preliminary Assignment: To help students get maximum value from ISUP courses, instructors provide a reading or a small number of readings or video clips to be read or viewed before the start of classes with a related task scheduled for class 1 in order to 'jump-start' the learning process.


Course timetable is available on https://www.cbs.dk/uddannelse/international-summer-university-programme-isup/courses-and-exams


We reserve the right to cancel the course if we do not get enough applications. This will be communicated on https://www.cbs.dk/uddannelse/international-summer-university-programme-isup/courses-and-exams end February 2019 at the latest.


Expected literature

Mandatory readings:


Benson, Peter, Stuart Kirsch, Jedrzej George Frynas, Chris Hann, Gustavo Lins Ribeiro, Erica Schoenberger, Ajantha Subramanian, Peter Benson, and Stuart Kirsch. "Capitalism and the politics of resignation." Current Anthropology 51, no. 4 (2010).
Brundtland, G. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. United Nations General Assembly document A/42/427.

Dolan, Catherine, and Dinah Rajak, eds. The anthropology of corporate social responsibility. Vol. 18. Berghahn Books, 2016.

Dove, Michael R. "The dialectical history of" jungle" in Pakistan: an examination of the relationship between nature and culture." Journal of Anthropological Research 48, no. 3 (1992): 231-253.

Dove, Michael. "Living Rubber, Dead Land, and Persisting Systems in Borneo: Indigenous Representation of Sustainability." (1998).

Peet, Richard, Paul Robbins, and Michael Watts, eds. Global political ecology. Routledge, 2010.

Reijonen, Satu, and Kjell Tryggestad. "The dynamic signification of product qualities: on the possibility of “greening” markets." Consumption Markets & Culture 15, no. 2 (2012): 213-234.

Rocheleau, Dianne E. "Political ecology in the key of policy: From chains of explanation to webs of relation." Geoforum 39, no. 2 (2008): 716-727.

Sehwartz, Carroll A. B., and A. B. Carroll. "Corporate social responsibility: a three-domain approch." Business Ethics Quarterly 13, no. 4 (2003): 503-530.

Spindler, Edmund A. "The History of Sustainability the origins and effects of a popular concept." In Sustainability in tourism, pp. 9-31. Springer Gabler, Wiesbaden, 2013.

Sullivan, Sian. "Making Nature Investable." Science & Technology Studies (2018): 47-76.

Vallentin, Steen, and David Murillo. "Governmentality and the politics of CSR." Organization 19, no. 6 (2012): 825-843.

Wallace, Mike, and Alison Wray. Critical reading and writing for postgraduates. Sage, 2016.

Welker, Marina A. "“Corporate security begins in the community”: mining, the corporate social responsibility industry, and environmental advocacy in Indonesia." Cultural Anthropology 24, no. 1 (2009): 142-179.

West, Paige. "Translation, value, and space: theorizing an ethnographic and engaged environmental anthropology." American Anthropologist 107, no. 4 (2005): 632-642.

Powell, Miles A. Vanishing America. Harvard University Press, 2016. (selections)



Last updated on 29-05-2019