Program Overview

Political Ecology of Forests Course

This course explores the ethno-ecological relationship between humans and forests.

Most of the course will be conducted within villages in the extreme northwest corner of Thailand, nestled among mountains that have long since been the domain of Karen ethnic people. Tropical forest ecology, the Karen adaptation to this environment, and the conflicts over forest resource management form the thematic backbone of the course. By living, farming, interacting, and traveling through the forests with villagers, students will learn firsthand how the Karen livelihood is intertwined with their forest world.

Learning Outcomes

  • Understanding of the key issues in forest political ecology
  • Understanding the peoples’ socio-economic as well as cultural adaptations within forest ecosystems
  • Understanding of the social dynamics related to upland rotational agriculture of the Karen
  • Knowledge of significant plants used in rotational plots and significant forest products used
  • Ability to successfully carry out basic ethnographic studies of Karen ethnic people and their cultural adaptation to the rapid changes in Thai society
  • Ability to implement forest survey methods related to both ecosystem and local knowledge of forests
  • Proficiency with the tools of field research, including using a GPS during forest and village surveys, ability to carry out basic socioeconomic surveys in Thai, etc.
  • Understanding of the alternative forest classification and management systems established for each particular socio-ecological context
  • Knowledge of the barriers related to creating sustainable communities and people’s movements
  • Understanding of the struggle for the recognition of local rights to manage community forests
  • Demonstrate proficiency in backcountry travel in mountain and jungle environments, including river crossings and appropriate travel on steep terrain



    Block 3

    Course Title

    Political Ecology of Forests: People and Natural Resources (ECODEV 402)


    4 Credits

    Academic Fields




    Extensive hiking while in the villages (to upland fields, etc)

    Backpacking and hiking may include multiple river crossing and rough terrain, with 6-9 hour days of travel on foot between villages common.


    Upland Karen Villages (Mae Hong Son Province)

    Application Deadlines

    Semester Application Deadlines: Fall – March 15 / Spring – October 15

    Summer Application Deadline: April 1

    After the deadline we will accept students on a space available basis, so contact us at [email protected]

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