Amity Doolittle

Senior Lecturer and Research Scientist

Teaching Statement

Teaching experience
I annually advise 10-12 masters’ students on the design of their research projects, facilitate their placement in research sites around the world, and supervise the write up of their masters’ theses.  I have also designed and taught five interdisciplinary courses.  Four courses are for F&ES graduate students.  These are Qualitative Research Methods; Environmental Justice; Property Rights and Natural Resource Management; Globalization and the Environment, Environmental Justice and Leaves, Livelihoods and Landscapes in Borneo (with Lisa Curran).  At the under graduate level, I teach Political Ecology. I also advise undergraduate students in the environmental studies major on courses available to F&ES and on their senior essays.

Teaching philosophy
I am a firm believer in active, collaborative learning, and I try to maintain an engaging and interactive classroom.  In each class session I bring some background conceptual material to the class through a short lecture.  Then I work to stimulate discussion in which students can question and critique the theories, concepts, and empirical material from the reading.  I try to accomplish an engaging approach not only in the classroom, but also in writing assignments. For example, in my research methods class I have students listen to transcripts of environment-related interviews from National Public Radio and read the transcripts of oral histories from resource-dependent people around the world.  Students then analyze this primary data in terms of what makes a good interview, how to record interviews and what constitutes valuable qualitative data.  Social science is not a collection of facts, but rather, field of inquiry that is alive with problems to solve.  Only through the hands-on experiences with other people in other countries can tools be mastered to develop workable solutions.

Graduate courses taught annually: Qualitative Research Methods; Environmental Justice; Property Rights and Natural Resource Management

Graduate course descriptions:

F&ES 952 Capstone Property Rights and Natural Resources Management: Power, Wealth and Meaning: Rights to land and property are fundamental in most societies. Often secure land tenure is essential for the sustainable management of natural resources. Yet few natural resource managers understand the complexity of property rights, particularly in the developing world where there can be overlapping and competing land tenure regimes operating on any one piece of land. Around the world ownership of, control over and access to natural resources has meaning far beyond the traditional thinking of economic rationality and institutions of governance. Failure to understand the complex social relations embedded in property rights is a sure path to non-sustainable use of natural resources. In this seminar we consider literature on the origins of Western property law, the fluidity in native customary law, the constraints, opportunities and inequalities found in legal pluralism, and community and collective management of shared resources management. Our discussions will include explorations into varying theoretical constructs of property as well as the applied implications (socially and ecologically) of different property systems. The majority of our cases studies will draw from the developing world.

F&ES 551 Social Science Qualitative Research Methods: This course is designed to provide a broad introduction to issues of social sciences research methods and design.Emphasis in the readings and lectures is placed on qualitative methods; although, consideration is given to both quantitative and qualitative approaches to research. No prior knowledge of methodology or statistics is expected or assumed. The course is intended for both doctoral students who are in the beginning stage of their dissertation research, as well as for master’s students developing research proposals for their thesis projects. The course will cover the basic techniques for collecting, interpreting, and analyzing certain types of qualitative data. During the semester, we will explore three interrelated dimension of research, one focuses on the theoretical foundations of science and research, another focuses on the various methods available to researchers for data collection and analysis, and finally we will complete exercises in the practical application of various methods.

Theoretically we will consider questions such as: What is qualitative research? Is qualitative research scientific? What are the roles of induction and deduction in qualitative research? What is the role of a hypothesis or research question in qualitative research? What role does grounded theory play in qualitative research? Does ethnographic research have a small-n problem (lack of generalizability of the results)? Is replication possible in ethnographic, or interview-based, studies?

Practically we will consider questions such as: What makes a good key informant? How can you triangulate social data? What goes into field notes? Should you use a tape recorder? How do you code data? What is snowball (or purposive) sampling? How can you judge the qualitative of ethnographic research? How do you interpret qualitative data? What techniques can we borrow from Rapid Rural Appraisal? What role do surveys or archival data play in qualitative research? In what ways do cultural assumptions about race, class, gender and nationality shape the very terms of discussion and analysis used in environmental science and environmental studies?

F&ES 846 Topics in Environmental Justice: In this seminar we will explore global—domestic and international—environmental issues from a perspective that foregrounds questions of social justice. The field of environmental justice asks for fair treatment of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, economic capacity, national origin, and education level with respect to environmental politics and their implementations. In this and other aspects, the environmental justice perspective differs from traditional environmental philosophies in that it seeks to combine a concern for the natural world with a consciousness of ethnic, class, and gender discrimination. From this vantage point it is argued that throughout the world there are marked and increasing disparities between those who have access to clean and safe resources and those who do not. Often poor and minority communities bear a disproportionately large burden of toxic contamination and suffer the health problems that result from it, while the elite and powerful tend to control the valuable resources. Disparities of this nature may be the result of historical circumstances, contemporary economic and trade relations, and inadequate or inappropriate governmental regulation. They may also be the result of deliberate targeting of disenfranchised communities or weak nations to bear the burden of powerful communities’ and nations’ unsustainable consumption patterns. Perceived as “paths of least resistance”, minority and low-income communities or nations are targets as sites for dumping of toxic waste and environmentally hazardous substances.

This course is based on two fundamental premises: All individuals and communities, regardless of their social or economic conditions, have the right to a clean and healthy environment; and there is a connection between environmental exploitation, human exploitation and social justice. With these premises as a starting point, we will first define “What is environmental justice?”. Then we will turn to more difficult questions such as: Why and through what political, social and economic processes are some people are denied this basic right to a clean and safe environment? Why is it that certain groups of people are denied basic resource rights or are burdened with pollution of environmental hazards to a greater extent than other groups? What are the social relations of production and power that contribute to these outcomes? And finally we will consider the most important question of all: What can be done to correct these histories of inequality?

Undergraduate courses taught annually: Political Ecology: Nature, Culture and Power

Undergraduate course description:

EVST 285 Political Ecology: Nature, Culture and Power: This is an undergraduate seminar on the relationship between society and the environment, specifically focusing on literature from the interdisciplinary field of political ecology. Political ecology is based on the belief that environmental conflicts and management cannot be studied without careful examination of the pertinent political, economic, cultural and historical factors. The field of political ecology has grown in response to other phases in the scholarship surrounding mankind’s place in the environment. Specifically political ecology draws on the scholarship from the fields of human ecology and political economy. Rather than focusing on the supposedly closed relationship between a society and their ecosystem (as human ecologists tend to) or solely on events occurring in the larger political economy and their effect on the environment, practitioners of political ecology try to explain environmental conflicts in terms of the particularities of place, culture and history. The nuances of local level details are set in relation to larger events occurring in the broader political economy since both local and non-local factors influence the decisions of a resources user. The field is predicated on the assumption that our environmental problems are often common, but their causes are complex and changing therefore solutions must be specific to time and place.