Identifying First Big Words/Keywords toward Thesis Framework Outcomes

Going into week seven of the term, pretty much halfway through, projects kick into gear.

Last week we had one of two classes due to beginning of fall break landing on a Thursday class, so we discussed less than usual. We did discuss big words as keywords—Big Words being Jim’s way to refer to words that carry extra “freight” (or weight) of meaning, attachments that make them widely acceptable but upon trying to pinpoint, sorely misunderstood.

Keywords are big words that we can labor to better identify; for instance, by trying a history of formation of the word “nature” (see Williams 1983, p. 219-224). Raymond Williams in many ways started the keywords project, which has been followed up by other works (e.g., Gleason et. al. 2016). Though, in the original, Williams gives at the bottom of each keyword entry possibly related terms, neither that nor later remakes follow through on drawing interpretive connections between these big keywords.

And that is what we’re tasked with in upcoming weeks in ENVS 350: articulating the “formations of meaning” between big words/keywords that Williams, himself, didn’t fully do. Right, so here goes…

I am preparing my framework for thesis via a few iterative course assignments. The first—a topic summary and set of framing questions—is being reworked; upcoming others are an annotated bibliography of 20 sources (10 of which I have via the topic summary) and an “isms” map, which just means that project of drawing coherent connections between a few big word terms and theories that I have selected via the first two assignments as well as weekly theory critiques on entries in our text, Companion to Environmental Studies.

Potential big words/keywords/isms map content, from topic summary/framing question assignment, from my to-do list of theoretical critiques, and from published keywords (Williams 1983; Gleason et. al. 2016)

From topic summary/framing questions:

  • technology
  • public
  • Other terms to note: demographic change, rural-urban continuum, out-migration, counterurbanization, knowledge economy, modernity, neoliberalism, counter-publics, development

From theoretical critiques:

  • scarcity and environmental limits
  • precautionary principle
  • science & technology studies
  • political ecology
  • posthumanism
  • Anthropocene

From keywords (Gleason 2016):

  • biosphere
  • consumption
  • democracy
  • genome
  • scale
  • translation

And keywords (Williams 1983):

  • utility/utilitarian
  • wealth/tilth


Gleason, William A., Joni Adamson, and David N. Pellow, eds. Keywords for Environmental Studies. NYU Press, 2016.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

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