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TCP3056 : Disasters, Monsters and Mess

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Andrew Donaldson
  • Owning School: Architecture, Planning & Landscape
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


This module deals with things that threaten the life of cities in various ways, and the ways in which we understand, frame and govern these complex problems.

Thinking about disasters will serve as a route into various ways of thinking systematically about futures (anticipation, emergency preparedness etc) that extend beyond the 'urban planning' model.

The module will introduce students to socio-ecological, assemblage and other systems perspectives on cities, through a focus on environmental risk and other threats to cities. Through examination of historical and contemporary disasters, emergencies and crises, alongside fictional scenarios from various media, the module will introduce and analyse threats that can emerge from human actions or on a huge scale (monsters) and exhibit such complexity (mess) that tackling them requires new perspectives from policy makers, scientists and practitioners. Topics and cases tackled will also introduce dimensions of environmental and social justice.

The module also aims to demonstrate the need for interdisciplinarity, drawing together geography, urban planning, environmental history, disaster risk reduction, science and technology studies and other social science approaches, and highlighting the interaction of social and natural sciences in understanding and managing emerging problems. The importance of complex team working and collaboration in dealing with contemporary urban problems (such as the dimensions of the climate emergency) will be explored.

Outline Of Syllabus

Lecture topics covered: disasters and futures; warfare and critical infrastructure; contagion, pandemics and public health; ‘natural’ disasters and environmental justice; resilience, ruins and the political forms of the anthropocene. A rotating selection of other case study problems to drive thought and contribute to individual assignment preparation will be provided each year.

Workshops will include: supported work on a group project to conduct a city risk analysis; additional analytical exercises around complex problem framing on different issues; and exploration of theories and concepts around the themes of 'monsters' and 'mess' to help develop individual assignments. The workshops will include discussion of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion1100:00100:00Group and individual assignments.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:3016:30in person
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops22:004:00In Person
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops71:3010:30in person
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery12:002:00In person
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study167:0067:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures provide an introduction to the substantive knowledge outcomes described above. Knowledge outcomes 1, 2 and 3 will be the focus in the opening lectures, and then developed alongside outcomes 4 and 5 for the remainder, providing links to current policy, politics and practice at an international level.

Workshops will support the development of knowledge outcomes through providing activities and discussions that develop reflective understanding of key issues introduced in the lectures, across all knowledge outcomes. The workshops will also drive the intended skills outcomes through problem-based engagement with knowledge outcomes 2-3 by: 1) providing practical experience of conducting a high-level city risk assessment which will form part of the module assessment; and 2) engaging in practical systems thinking using established training exercises for complex problem analysis. One of the later sessions will be a combination of Q&A and group discussions based on topics determined by the students to draw out key themes.

The surgery session is for the individual assignment.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Prob solv exercises2M30Group work, supported by workshop sessions, students will conduct a risk/threat assessment for a city (1500 words per student)
Essay2M70An individual essay (2,500 words) engaging with academic theories/themes of the module
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The group exercise emphasises the need for collaboration, team working and incorporating different perspectives into dealing with complex problems. It also provides a basic introduction to a process found in many organizational contexts.

The individual written assessment assesses the critical understanding of the theoretical content of the module and its role in understanding contemporary socioecological problems.

Group work will be marked in accordance with the group work policy.

Reading Lists