The spring semester 2021 will take place online until further notice. Exceptions: Courses that can only be carried out with on-site presence. Please note the information provided by the lecturers.

Search result: Catalogue data in Autumn Semester 2016

Environmental Sciences Bachelor Information
Bachelor Studies (Programme Regulations 2011)
Social Sciences and Humanities Module
Module Political and Social Sciences
Core Courses
701-0727-00LPolitics of Environmental Problem Solving in Developing CountriesW2 credits2GU. Scheidegger
AbstractThe course focuses on processes and drivers of decision-making on natural resources management issues in developing countries. It gives insights into the relevance of ecological aspects in developing countries. It covers concepts, instruments, processes and actors in environmental politics at the example of specific environmental challenges of global importance.
ObjectiveAfter completion of the module, students will be able to:
- Identify and appraise ecological aspects in development cooperation, development policies and developing countries' realities
- Analyze the forces, components and processes, which influence the design, the implementation and the outcome of ecological measures
- Characterize concepts, instruments and drivers of environmental politics and understand, how policies are shaped, both at national level and in multilateral negotiations
- Study changes (improvements) in environmental politics over time as the result of the interaction of processes and actors, including international development organizations
- Analyze politics and design approaches to influence them, looking among others at governance, social organization, legal issues and institutions
ContentKey issues and basic concepts related to environmental politics are introduced. Then the course predominantly builds on case studies, providing information on the context, specifying problems and potentials, describing processes, illustrating the change management, discussing experiences and outcomes, successes and failures. The analysis of the cases elucidates factors for success and pitfalls in terms of processes, key elements and intervention strategies.

Different cases not only deal with different environmental problems, but also focus on different levels and degrees of formality. This ranges from local interventions with resource user groups as key stakeholders, to country level policies, to multi- and international initiatives and conventions. Linkages and interaction of the different system levels are highlighted. Special emphasis is given to natural resources management.

The cases address the following issues:
- Land use and soil fertility enhancement: From degradation to sustainable use
- Common property resource management (forest and pasture): Collective action and property rights, community-based management
- Ecosystem health (integrated pest management, soil and water conservation)
- Payment for environmental services: Successes in natural resources management
- Climate change and agriculture: Adaptation and mitigation possibilities
- Biodiversity Convention: Implications for conservations and access to genetic resources
- Biodiversity as a means for more secure livelihoods: Agroforestry and intercropping
- The Millennium Development Goals: Interactions between poverty and the environment
- Poverty and natural resources management: Poverty reduction strategies, the view of the poor themselves
- Food security: Policies, causes for insecurity, the role of land grabbing
- Biofuels and food security: Did politics misfire?
- Strategy development at global level: IAASTD and World Development Report 2008
Lecture notesInformation concerning the case studies and specific issues illustrated therein will be provided during the course (uploaded on Moodle)
LiteratureRobbins P, 2004. Political ecology: a critical introduction. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK, 242 p.

Peet R, Robbins P, Watts M, 2011. Global political ecology. Routledge, New York, 450 p.

Keeley J, Scoones I, 2000. Knowledge, power and politics: the environmental policy-making process in Ethiopia. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 38(1), 89-120.
Prerequisites / NoticeThe performance assessment will consist of an individual essay to be written by each student based on at least five references in addition to the sources provided in the course. Students can choose from a list of topics. Criteria for assessment will be communicated at the beginning of the course.
701-0731-00LEnvironmental Behavior in Social ContextW2 credits2SH. Bruderer Enzler
AbstractThis introductory class in the environmental social sciences covers topics such as environmental behavior, environmental concern, social dilemmas and social norms.
ObjectiveBasic knowledge of the environmental social sciences
Overview on current fields of research and their relevance for practical application
ContentUmweltverhalten ist stets in einen gesellschaftlichen Kontext eingebettet und wird durch verschiedenste soziale, psychologische und situationale Faktoren beeinflusst. In diesem Kurs wird Umweltverhalten daher unter anderem im Zusammenhang mit Umweltbewusstsein, sozialen Dilemmata und sozialen Normen diskutiert. Alle Themen werden zunächst eingeführt und anschliessend durch Studierende vertieft. Die Studierenden gestalten voraussichtlich in Zweiergruppen eine Unterrichtsstunde und verfassen eine kurze schriftliche Arbeit.

Fragen, die uns während des Semesters beschäftigen:
- Wie kommt es zu Umweltschädigungen, obwohl niemand diese beabsichtigt?
- Wer verhält sich besonders umweltschonend? Wie wird dies gemessen?
- Welche Rolle spielt das Umweltbewusstsein?
- Welche Rolle spielen äussere Faktoren (Möglichkeiten, Kosten etc.)?
- Wie sehr lassen wir uns dadurch beeinflussen, was andere machen?
- Kooperieren wir nur, wenn auch andere dies tun?
LiteratureDiekmann, A., & Preisendörfer, P. (2001). Umweltsoziologie. Eine Einführung. Reinbek: Rowohlt.
Steg, L., van den Berg, A., & de Groot, J. (2013). Environmental Psychology. An Introduction. Chichester: BPS Blackwell.
701-0985-00LSocial Intercourse with Current Environmental RisksW1 credit1VB. Nowack, C. M. Som-Koller
AbstractThe lecture treats the social intercourse with risks of technical systems. The notion of risk and the perception of risk are discussed by case studies (e.g. nanotechnology) and socio-political instruments for decision-making are presented. Methods are presented that can be applied to deal with environmental risks and how they can be used for sustainable innovation.
Objective- Getting acquainted to the extended risk concept
- Evaluation of the risks caused by technology within the societal context
- Knowledge about the mode science and society handle current environmental risks (examples gene- and nanotechnology)
- Knowledge about handling risks (e.g. precautionary principle, protection goal, damage definition, ethics)
Knowledge about possibilities for sustainable innovation
Content- Risks and technical systems (risk categories, risk perception, risk management)
- Illustration with case studies (nanotechnology)
- Implementation (politics, science, media, etc.)
- Decision making (technology assessment, cost/benefit analysis etc.)
- The role of the media
- prospects for future developments
Lecture notesCopies of slides and selected documents will be distributed
Prerequisites / NoticeThe lecture is held biweekly (for 2 hours). The dates are 26.9., 3.10. (out of schedule), 24.10, 7.11, 21.11, 5.12, 19.12
227-0802-02LSociologyW2 credits2VA. Diekmann
AbstractVarious studies are used to introduce basic sociological concepts, theories and empirical research methods, along with selected sociological topics. The goal of the course is to provide participants with an understanding of working practice in empirical sociology and the central findings of sociological studies.
ObjectiveTo learn about methods of empirical social research and key results of classic and modern sociological studies.
ContentSoziologie befasst sich mit den Regelmässigkeiten sozialer Handlungen und ihrer gesellschaftlichen Folgen. Sie richtet ihren Blick auf die Beschreibung und Erklärung neuer gesellschaftlicher Entwicklungen und erfasst diese mit emprischen Forschungsmethoden. Die Vorlesung wird u.a. anhand von Beispielstudien - klassische Untersuchungen ebenso wie moderne Forschungsarbeiten - in die Grundbegriffe, Theorien, Forschungsmethoden und Themenbereiche der Soziologie einführen.

Folgende Themen werden behandelt:

1. Einführung in die Arbeitsweise der Soziologie anhand verschiedener Beispielstudien. Darstellung von Forschungsmethoden und ihrer Probleme. Etappen des Forschungsprozesses: Hypothese, Messung, Stichproben, Erhebungsmethoden, Datenanalyse.

2. Darstellung und Diskussion soziologischer Befunde aus der Umwelt- und Techniksoziologie. (1) Modernisierung und Technikrisiken, (2) Umweltbewegung, Umweltbewusstsein und Umweltverhalten, (3) Umweltprobleme als "soziale Dilemmata", (4) Modelle der Diffusion technischer Innovationen.

3. Der Beitrag der Sozialtheorie. Vorstellung und Diskussion ausgewählter Studien zu einzelnen Themenbereichen, z.B.: (1) Die Entstehung sozialer Kooperation, (2) Reputation und Märkte, (3) Soziale Netzwerke u.a.m.

Ergänzende Gruppenarbeiten (nicht verpflichtend). Im Rahmen des MTU-Programms des ITET und Programmen anderer Departemente können Semesterarbeiten in Soziologie (Durchführung einer kleinen empirischen Studie, Konstruktion eines Simulationsmodels sozialer Prozesse oder Diskussion einer vorliegenden soziologischen Untersuchung) angefertigt werden. Kreditpunkte (in der Regel 6 bis 12) für "kleine" oder "grosse" Semesterarbeiten werden nach den Regeln des Departements, das Semestergruppenarbeiten ermöglicht, vergeben.
Lecture notesFolien der Vorlesung und weitere Materialien (Fachartikel, Kopien aus Büchern) werden auf der Webseite der Vorlesung zum Download zur Verfügung gestellt.
LiteratureFolien der Vorlesung und weitere Materialien (Fachartikel, Kopien aus Büchern) werden auf der Webseite der Vorlesung zum Download zur Verfügung gestellt.
Prerequisites / NoticeInteresse am Thema und Bereitschaft zum Mitdenken.
851-0591-00LDigital Sustainability in the Knowledge Society
Particularly suitable for students of D-INFK, D-ITET, D-MATL, D-MAVT, D-MTEC, D-USYS.
W2 credits2VM. M. Dapp
AbstractHow do various interest groups influence the methods of production, distribution, and use of digital resources? Current models focusing on strong intellectual property rights are contrasted with open models like, e.g. Open Source/Content/Access. The course discusses consequences from different models and introduces »digital sustainability« as an alternative vision for society.
ObjectiveAt the heart of the discourse is the handling of digital goods and intellectual property in society. Digitization and the Internet allow handling knowledge in a way, which directly contrasts with the traditional understanding of "intellectual property" and the industries based on it. Starting from economic and legal basics, we compare proprietary and open/"free" models. Sustainable development as a concept is transferred to digital goods, taking into account the particular nature of digital stuff.
After the lecture, you should (hopefully) be able to
- characterize the nature of digital goods vs. physical goods
- critique the basic concepts of copyright and patent rights
- explain the political/legal and economic differences between proprietary and open approaches to the production and use of digital goods
- using an example, explain the meaning of digital sustainability and argue why it is relevant for a knowledge society
- transfer the ideas of the free/open source software model to other digital goods (e.g., open content, open access)
ContentTechnical reality: Within minutes you can make perfect copies of high-value digital goods of knowledge or culture (as text, audio, video, image or software) and distribute them around the globe -- for free. «Digitization plus Internet» allows for the first time in humankind's history the (theoretically) free access and global exchange of knowledge at minimal cost. A tremendous opportunity for societal development, in north and south. «Cool, so what's the problem?»
The problem is, that this reality poses a fundamental threat to today's business model of the knowledge and culture industries (starting from the music label and Hollywood, via publishers, up to software vendors). Powerful commercial interests are at stake as «knowledge» (the fourth factor of production) will become ever more important in the 21st century. Accordingly, «piracy» and «file-sharing» are attacked with all means. At the core lies the question about the design of property in digital assets. For that, we apply a concept of «intellectual property», which is several hundred years old and does not address digtal reality in an adequate manner, sometimes leading to absurd situations. Its original goal seems to get forgotten: to help society develop by spreading knowledge as much as possible.
Using the PC becomes the new cultural technique of the 21st century. In contrast to «reading, writing and arithmetics», this new cultural technique cannot exist in isolation, but depends on a hard- and software infrastructure. This dependency extends to the provider of the infrastructure, who can define technical rules, which can take away or restrict the user's freedom. Even advanced users may have difficulties in recognizing these, often hidden, restrictions and in evaluating their societal relevance. But exactly these invisible consequences we need to understand and investigate, because they decide about access, distribution and usage of digital knowledge.
Comparable to the environmentalist movement of the 60s and 70s, a growing political movement for «Free Software» exists today, with «GNU/Linux» as its most popular symbol. The movement fights against treating software code as private property but as a central cultural good available to all without private interests. Based on the success of the Free Software movement, new initiatives extend the concepts to other domains (e.g. scientific knowledge, music)...
As a «teaser» to the lecture, you are invited to read the essay «ETH Zurich - A Pioneer in Digital Sustainability!». It can be downloaded from
More on starting from September. Stay tuned.
Lecture notesSlides and other material (both usually in English) will be made available on a weekly basis as the lecture proceeds.
LiteratureContent of the following books is covered (PDFs freely available online):
1 Volker Grassmuck, Freie Software - Zwischen Privat- und Gemeineigentum, Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 2. Aufl. Bonn 2004.
2 François Lévêque & Yann Ménière, The Economics of Patents and Copyright, Berkeley Electronic Press, 2004.
3 Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Yale University Press. New Haven 2006.
Other recommended books are:
1 (general) Chris DiBona et al., Open Sources – Voices from the Open Source Revolution, O'Reilly, 1999.
2 (pol. sc.) Steven Weber, The Success of Open Source, Harvard UP, 2004.
3 (law) James Boyle, Shamans, Software, & Spleens - Law and The Construction of the Information Society, Harvard UP, 1996.
4 (law) Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Basic Books, New York 1999.
Prerequisites / NoticeFor administrative and didactic reasons (high level of interaction and credit group assignments on current hot topics), the number of participants is limited to 45.
Of course, any interested person is invited to attend the lecture without doing the group assignment. The website is actively used for the lecture.
851-0594-00LInternational Environmental Politics
Particularly suitable for students of D-ITET, D-USYS
W3 credits2VT. Bernauer
AbstractThis course focuses on the conditions under which cooperation in international environmental politics emerges and the conditions under which such cooperation and the respective public policies are effective and/or efficient.
ObjectiveThe objectives of this course are to (1) gain an overview of relevant questions in the area of international environmental politics from a social sciences viewpoint; (2) learn how to identify interesting/innovative questions concerning this policy area and how to answer them in a methodologically sophisticated way; (3) gain an overview of important global and regional environmental problems.
ContentThis course deals with how and why international cooperation in environmental politics emerges, and under what circumstances such cooperation is effective and efficient. Based on theories of international political economy and theories of government regulation various examples of international environmental politics are discussed: the management of international water resources, the problem of unsafe nuclear power plants in eastern Europe, political responses to global warming, the protection of the stratospheric ozone layer, the reduction of long-range transboundary air pollution in Europe, the prevention of pollution of the oceans, etc.

The course is open to all ETH students. Participation does not require previous coursework in the social sciences.

After passing an end-of-semester test (requirement: grade 4.0 or higher) students will receive 3 ECTS credit points. The workload is around 90 hours (meetings, reading assignments, preparation of test).

Visiting students (e.g., from the University of Zurich) are subject to the same conditions. Registration of visiting students in the web-based system of ETH is compulsory.
Lecture notesAssigned reading materials and slides will be available at (select link 'Registered students, please click here for course materials' at top of that page). Log in with your nethz name and password. Questions concerning access to course materials can be addressed to Mike Hudecheck (Mike Hudecheck <>). All assigned papers must be read ahead of the respective meeting. Following the course on the basis of on-line slides and papers alone is not sufficient. Physical presence in the classroom is essential. Many books and journals covering international environmental policy issues can be found at the D-GESS library at the IFW building, Haldeneggsteig 4, B-floor, or in the library of D-USYS.
LiteratureAssigned reading materials and slides will be available at (select link 'Registered students, please click here for course materials' at top of that page). Log in with your nethz name and password. Questions concerning access to course materials can be addressed to Mike Hudecheck (Mike Hudecheck <>).
Prerequisites / NoticeNone
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