Spring 2024 - CMNS 858 G100

Selected Topics in Communication Studies (5)


Class Number: 1325

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Thu, 10:30 a.m.–2:20 p.m.



Specialized graduate course offering on a topic related to the current research of school faculty or visiting professor.


Over the past two decades, the field of environmental communication has expanded rapidly as awareness has grown of the critical role played by culture and communication in shaping the relationship between human societies and our ‘natural’ environment. 

On the one hand, culture and communication have played a major role in supporting the economic, social and political structures and institutions that have come to exploit and dominate ‘nature’ in a fundamentally unsustainable and increasingly catastrophic manner. Commercial and corporate media, for example, provide vital cultural and ideological support to ecologically devastating forms of capitalism, neoliberalism, economic growth and consumer culture while marginalizing the voices of those calling for a different relationship with the biosphere (or even those seeking to inform the public of environmental crisis). In addition to propagating misinformation about the climate crisis, social media shelter and incubate forms of far-right, authoritarian populism that defend carbon-intensive political economies and ways of life, and whip up resentment and outrage at those advancing more progressive policies. 

On the other hand, cultural and communicative processes can also provide the conceptual and emotional space to cultivate not only an awareness of environmental crisis but also (and more importantly) the social and political will to challenge existing structures of power and patterns of inequality, and inaugurate (and imagine) more sustainable forms of economy and society. The explosive recent growth of global climate and environmental justice movements is exemplary of this potential. Vigorous debates among scholars, practitioners and activists in the field about how to communicate more effectively with the public (as well as a strongly interdisciplinary theoretical orientation and research agenda) have produced a much richer understanding of the roles that affect, emotion, experience, identity, narrative, values, frames, practices, institutions and other elements can and must play in motivating increased public engagement with environmental issues. 

These issues are of particular consequence to the evolving social and political landscape in British Columbia where intense struggles over resource and infrastructure development coexist with a social and physical landscape increasingly subject to the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. While governments in Canada continue to support the expansion of carbon intensive extraction and export (alongside comparatively modest efforts to reduce domestic emissions), strong resistance movements have emerged, led by First Nations, local communities and environmental activists and advocates. Such efforts are supported by a rapidly growing alternative media ecology that is challenging the hegemony of corporate media and public relations in the information landscape. Our discussion of environmental communication will be informed by and rooted within this political and discursive context. Scholarship focused upon media and communication does constitute the principal focus for the seminar. CMNS 858 (Spring 2024, Gunster) 

However, the course also draws upon research from a range of relevant disciplines, including history, geography, psychology, sociology, political science and others. Past iterations of the course have included graduate students from across the university and this interdisciplinary composition of the seminar has broadened and enriched our discussions. I welcome the participation of students with an interest in how media and communication shapes how people and institutions engage with ecological crisis, climate change and the possibilities of building more equitable and sustainable futures. 


  • Participation 25%
  • Presentations (x2) 10%
  • Critical review of a week's readings (x1) 15%
  • Research proposal (due February 29) 5%
  • Presentation of research 5%
  • Major research essay/project (due April 18) 40%


The school expects that the grades awarded in this course will bear some reasonable relation to established university-wide practices with respect to both levels and distribution of grades. In addition, The School will follow Policy S10.01 with respect to Academic Integrity, and Policies S10.02, S10.03 and S10.04 as regards Student Discipline. [Note: as of May 1, 2009 the previous T10 series of policies covering Intellectual Honesty (T10.02) and Academic Discipline (T10.03) have been replaced with the new S10 series of policies.] 



All course readings will be available online. 

In addition to the weekly readings, we will also read The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis by Amitav Ghosh over the course of the term. Students will need to obtain a copy of this book. 


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the term are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.