Modern science has been a major force in shaping our views on nature and humanity. This unit examines the relationship between scientific ideas and society with the aim of understanding both the contexts and consequences of scientific inquiry. With an emphasis on the history of the environmental sciences, science will be investigated historically as a cultural phenomenon that interacts with, and is influenced by, the development of societies and their politics. We will see how ideologies of progress have been expressed historically, how they find expression today, and how they may yet find expression when it comes to questions about the future of humanity and life on earth.


Teaching Periods
Start and end dates
Last self-enrolment date
Census date
Last withdraw without fail date
Results released date
Semester 2
Start and end dates
Last self-enrolment date
Census date
Last withdraw without fail date
Results released date

Learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this unit will be able to:

  • Correctly use appropriate terms for the eras, movements, ideologies and philosophies studied
  • Draw upon primary and secondary sources to understand key ideas underlying the social, political, and intellectual movements studied, and their implications for the periods studied.
  • Investigate the implications that the ideas and theories studied have for 21st century conceptions of nature, humanity, society, and justice.
  • Describe important ways in which evolutionary theorising in either the environmental, social, psychological, health or life sciences has transformed conceptions of nature and humanity.

Teaching methods


Type Hours per week Number of weeks Total (number of hours)
1.00 12 weeks 12
2.00 12 weeks 24
Specified Activities
5.00 12 weeks 60
Unspecified Activities
Independent Learning
4.50 12 weeks 54


Type Task Weighting ULO's
Essay 1Individual 0 - 35% 1,2,3 
Essay 2Individual 0 - 45% 1,2,3,4 
PresentationIndividual 0 - 10% 
Reflective JournalIndividual 0 - 10% 2,3 


  • Ideals of Progress in Early Modernity
  • Science and Philosophy in the “Age of Reason” 
  • A Tale of Two Enlightenments? Competing Ideas of Progress in the Radical and Moderate Enlightenments
  • Static vs Evolutionary Worldviews: The Debate in Historical Context
  • The Triumph of Evolutionary Worldviews: Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism
  • The Social and Political Implications of Darwinism: Social Darwinism and Sociobiology 
  • What is Science? The Nature of Scientific Paradigms and Scientific Revolutions 
  • The Limits of Scientific Materialism
  • Indigenous Approaches to Knowledge, Nature, and Humanity  
  • Ecology and Environment: Reductive vs Holistic Approaches
  • From Machine to Organism: Holistic Approaches to Nature and Humanity 
  • Creating the Future: Implications of the Theories, Ideologies, and Paradigms Studied

Study resources

Reading materials

A list of reading materials and/or required textbooks will be available in the Unit Outline on Canvas.