ATS3626 - Global disasters: Catastrophe and social change - 2018

6 points, SCA Band 2, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate - Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.



Organisational Unit


Chief examiner(s)

Dr Susie Protschky


Dr Susie Protschky

Not offered in 2018




This unit examines the social history and impact of disasters from the late nineteenth century to recent times. Case studies include environmental and industrial disasters, pandemics, famines, and climate change events. We examine the processes that make disasters 'global', like travel and communications technologies and environmental systems. Using films, photographs, media reports and autobiographical sources, we examine the representation and experience of disasters to learn how they have been understood, experienced and responded to in contested ways. In doing so, we analyse the social causes of 'natural' and 'unnatural' disasters; how catastrophes have been catalysts for social change; and how disasters stimulate utopian and dystopian ideas about the globe's future.


The unit aims to provide students with a critical understanding of the role of disasters in shaping ideas about vulnerability, social change, responsibility and mitigation in the modern world, with a particular focus on the social experience of disaster, ethical issues and contested representations. It aims to further develop themes explored in the first-year sequence in International Studies, and to introduce themes and concepts that feature in the core Level 4 unit in that discipline. In addition, the unit also aims to develop students' skills in both independent research and writing and collaborative research and presentation.

Upon successful completion of the unit, students will be expected to demonstrate:

  1. a critical understanding of the role specific disasters and disasters in general have played in the development of global society;
  2. a thorough knowledge of how contested representations and understandings of disaster have explored issues of responsibility, mitigation, vulnerability and social change;
  3. a critical understanding of the various interpretations that inform the historical and contemporary analysis of these phenomena;
  4. a stronger understanding of the ethical challenges of disaster response;
  5. enhanced skills in the critical and analytical reading of a variety of texts, including contemporary documents, polemical literature, historical scholarship visual representations and web-based evidence, and specifically the development of skills in source criticism, critical reading, the development of research and writing skills, especially the use of evidence and primary sources, analysing different interpretations of an event or issue, organising and defending an argument, and writing with precision and imagination;
  6. the capacity to independently develop an original research project.


Within semester assessment: 100%

Workload requirements

Minimum total expected workload to achieve the learning outcomes for this unit is 144 hours per semester typically comprising a mixture of scheduled learning activities and independent study. A unit requires on average three/four hours of scheduled activities per week. Scheduled activities may include a combination of teacher directed learning, peer directed learning and online engagement.

See also Unit timetable information

This unit applies to the following area(s) of study