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2019/2020  KAN-CCMVV1909U  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 One Semester
Start time of the course Autumn, Spring
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 - Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC)
Main academic disciplines
  • CSR and sustainability
  • International political economy
  • Cultural studies
Teaching methods
  • Face-to-face teaching
Last updated on 23-08-2019

Relevant links

Learning objectives
To achieve the grade 12, students should meet the following learning objectives with no or only minor mistakes or errors:
  • be able to write a well-structured and clearly argued essay analyzing a company's sustainability performance
  • be able to deploy relevant theories from anthropology and political ecology to their case company and argue why those theories are appropriate
  • demonstrate familiarity with mainstream theories of corporate sustainability
  • demonstrate an ability to critically assess the relative strength and weakness of mainstream theories of and approaches to corporate sustainability, drawing on both critical theories presented in the course and the case company
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. 20 pages
Assignment type Essay
Duration Written product to be submitted on specified date and time.
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Winter and Summer
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

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 company or organization and its sustainability performance (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 exam, 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: Chr. Hansen (a "sustainable" company) 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 alongside media reports and relevant theoretical/empirical academic texts.
Feedback during the teaching period
The course instructor will meet individually with students during office hour to discuss their individual exam 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 halfway through the semester. The instructor must approve the research question (problem formulation) no later than one week later. 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
Expected literature

This list is indicative and is subject to change:


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.

Goldstein, Jesse. Planetary Improvement: Cleantech Entrepreneurship and the Contradictions of Green Capitalism. MIT Press, 2018.

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

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.

Schwartz, M.S. and A. B. Carroll. "Corporate social responsibility: a three-domain approach." 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.

Sultana, Farhana. "Suffering for water, suffering from water: emotional geographies of resource access, control and conflict." Geoforum 42, no. 2 (2011): 163-172.

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.

Last updated on 23-08-2019