SUS 7500S: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Water

Instructor Office Hours
James J. Biles
6/107 NAC
212-650-5969 (office)

Required reading materials
Bakker, K. Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World’s Urban Water Crisis
Bardach, E. and Patashnik, E. Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving (pdf)
Biles, J. Water in the Time of Cholera: Explaining the Proliferation of Bottled Water in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula (pdf)
Dodds, F. and Bartram, J. The Water, Food, Energy and Climate Nexus: Challenges and an agenda for action
Frioux, S. Environmental History of Water Resources (pdf)
Lejano, R. Frameworks for Policy Analysis: Merging Text and Context (pdf)
Lejano, R. et al. The Power of Narrative in Environmental Networks (pdf)
Linton, J. What is Water? The History of a Modern Abstraction
Sedlak, D. Water 4.0: The Past, Present, and Future of the World's Most Vital Resource
Smith, N. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space (pdf)

Course description and objectives
This graduate-level course offers students an introduction to water from an interdisciplinary “human-environment” perspective. In addition to reviewing the contemporary debates surrounding use and control of this vital, life-sustaining liquid, “resource” and commodity, students will gain a more complete understanding of how water is conceptualized (in abstract and concrete terms) in academic, policymaking and planning contexts. The course will challenge students to improve their research, writing and critical thinking skills. Accordingly, working in small groups students will have an opportunity to investigate water issues from an international, interdisciplinary perspective and to share their findings/analysis in oral, written and digital formats.
Readings and participation in classroom discussion
As a graduate course, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Water requires significant reading and some writing on a regular basis. You are expected to complete all required readings each week and to be prepared to discuss readings critically in class. Class discussions will be led by the instructor and students, meaning that each week I will choose one student (randomly) to introduce and assist with discussion of assigned reading materials. Ideally, in-class interactions should promote discussion and debate, which will lead to a more complete understanding of water. When leading the discussion, students will provide a brief summary of weekly readings,
as well as a more detailed critical analysis, identifying points of contention and interest for other students.

Attendance and participation
Your regular attendance and participation in class are expected in this course. Furthermore, you are expected to complete assigned readings before class meetings. Your participation and comments in class should demonstrate your familiarity with required reading materials. As part of your class participation, you are expected to collaborate with fellow team members on a final group project (see below) and to meet with me (with fellow research team members) at least twice during the semester to discuss the topic of your proposed final project/presentation. Attendance and general participation in classroom discussions will make up 15 percent of your grade in the class.

Weekly commentaries
Between weeks 3 and 12, students will prepare one-paragraph (approximately 150-200 words) commentaries, which offer your initial response and/or reaction to each week’s reading materials and/or theme. Although informal, these paragraphs should be well-written and appropriately organized/edited. In other words, both content and format are important. These 10 short commentaries will comprise 25 percent of your overall grade in this class.

Critical responses/reflections
On three occasions during the semester, you will submit a critical response in which you offer some form of critique or analysis (critical response, synthesis, and/or appraisal) of required reading materials/themes. In these short assignments, which can be completed in written (approximately 600 words) or video/podcast (5-6 minutes) format, you will react to and comment upon specific course themes and reading materials. If you choose to submit a written commentary, it must be submitted (hard copy) by class time on the due date; links (no files, please!) to podcast and video commentaries must be e-mailed to the instructor by the same time on the due date. These critical responses will comprise 25 percent of your total grade in this class.

Final group project/paper
During the first two weeks of the semester, students will be assigned randomly to one of 10 two or three-member research teams. As part of this course, each team must complete a 20-page paper (approximately 6000 words) which investigates and critically appraises a specific water-related policy initiative. Complete details regarding the paper, including instructions on paper length, format, structure and content, will be distributed early in the semester. As part of the research process, your team must meet with me twice during the semester. The final paper will be submitted during the last day of classes for this course. I will deduct 10 percent on projects that are submitted after this date. In addition, no papers will be accepted after the scheduled final examination period for this course. Each student’s grade on the project will be comprised a combination of the instructor’s overall evaluation of the paper (two-thirds) and peer evaluation
of each team member (one-third). Overall, the paper will comprise 25 percent of your final grade in this class.

Presentation of final project
Each team must also offer a formal presentation of the final project. Presentations will take place during the final week of the semester. Each presentation will take between 12 and 15 minutes; three to five minutes will also be allotted for questions from other students in the class. Similar to the critical response assignments discussed above, you may choose to deliver the presentation “live” or to record and show a video presentation. All students are expected to attend presentations; participation will be assessed based on the ensuing questions and discussion. The presentation will be graded by the instructor and other students in the course; it will make up 10 percent of your overall grade.

Late assignment policy
I will deduct 10 percent on commentaries and papers that are submitted after the due date. In addition, no commentaries or critical responses will be accepted more than two weeks after the submission date. No final projects/papers will be accepted after the scheduled final exam period for this course.

As detailed above, your grade in Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Water is based on a maximum of 100 points and comprised of five components: attendance and participation (15%); commentaries and reflections (25%); critical responses/reflections (25%); group project/paper (25%) and presentation of final project (10%).

Points Grade
>92 A
90-92 A-
86-89 B+
83-85 B
80-82 B-
76-79 C+
73-75 C
70-72 C-
60-69 D
<60 F

Tentative schedule
Week Theme Readings
1 Course introduction N/A
Reconciling the mythology of policy Biles
2 Mainstream perspectives on policy Bardach
3 Alternatives approaches to policy Lejano
4 Conceptualizing water 1 Frioux
5 Conceptualizing water 2 Linton
6 Conceptualizing water 3 Linton
7 Extracting value from water Smith
8 Water/society nexus 1 Sedlak
Sustainable development, urbanization and water Dodds
9 Water/society nexus 2 Sedlak
Integrated water resources management Dodds
10 Water/society nexus 3 Sedlak
Climate change and water Dodds
11 Water governance Bakker
Private sector and water Dodds
12 Water, governance and policy Bakker
13 Relational perspectives on water governance Lejano et al.
14 Bringing it all together: Water in the time of cholera Biles
15 Research presentations N/A