21 June 2000

Environmental focus for UQ Arts, Contemporary Studies programs

The University of Queensland's Faculty of Arts is experiencing strong student interest in its environmental studies programs, among the first of their kind in Australia.

Faculty of Arts Executive Dean Professor Alan Rix said there was a misconception that environmental studies were the preserve of scientists and engineers.

'However, the environment impacts generally on all human society and culture. This has been universally reflected in everything from literature to philosophy and art,' he said.

'In the last half of the 20th century, the level of interest in environmental issues has risen dramatically. UQ has reflected this by creating an environmental studies major in the Arts degree and by making it a core part of the Contemporary Studies program.'

Reader in philosophy Dr William Grey said many Arts students had a keen interest in such issues and the theories, understandings and misunderstandings they elicited.

'This fact is demonstrated by the large number of subjects currently offered in Arts and other faculties. They provide the components for the major in environmental studies offered at UQ,' he said.

Dr Grey said compulsory subjects in the environmental studies major in Arts included Literature and Environment, Environment and History and Environmental Philosophy. However, students could choose from a wide range of electives from Aboriginal Heritage and the Politics of Conservation, to Science, Technology and Society.

Lecturer in contemporary studies Dr Richard Hindmarsh said an exciting new Humanities focus on environmental studies could be found in the Bachelor of Contemporary Studies at UQ Ipswich.

'Contemporary Studies tackles important cultural, technoscientific, environmental, historical, and ethical issues of today and the future,' he said. 'It offers an attractive range of environmental subjects including Nature, Technology and the Human Condition, Valuing the Land and Environment, Science and Its Critics and Australia's Treatment of Nature: Present and Future.'

'This environmental focus is situated at the cutting-edge of exploring new holistic approaches emerging to address our complex environmental problems. A broad interdisciplinary approach embraces culture, values, western and non-western worldviews, history, environmental ethics and philosophy, the sociology of science and technology, politics, and sustainable futures.'

Dr Hindmarsh said students had the chance to put theory to practice in field trips to places such as Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) where they engaged with the world views of the indigenous people, environmental groups, and the sand-miners concerning valuing the land and environment. Another field trip contrasted conventional agriculture to organic agriculture; yet another contrasts molecular biology to ecology approaches.

'The approach at Contemporary Studies is designed to give students a well-rounded outlook of the culture in which they participate - underpinned by critical thinking, deep learning, problem solving skills and a good handle on values and ethics and emerging holistic approaches,' he said.

These intellectual tools were becoming increasingly recognised as essential foundations for improved educational, policy, business, technological, and community initiatives to address the environmental challenge of the 21st Century in a constructive and effective manner.

Second-year Contemporary Studies student Rachel Sibbick said the course had been a 'real eye opener.' 'It's given me a new outlook on the way the environment affects everything, how issues of nature and culture interact with each other,' she said.

Further information on environmental studies options in the Arts program can be found at: www.arts.uq.edu.au/ or by contacting the Arts Faculty at 07 3365 1081.
For details of the Contemporary Studies program, visit the webpage at: www.contemporary.uq.edu.au/course_careers.shtml or contact Helen Groom, Contemporary Studies Project Officer telephone 3381 1567.

Media: For further information, contact Professor Alan Rix, telephone 07 3365 51822.