Environmental Sociology A Resource Page John Sydenstricker-Neto ________________________________________ •What is Environmental Sociology? •Working Groups in Professional Associations •Teaching Environmental Sociology •Some Relevant Themes •Future Perspectives •Sociology Journals •Links of Interest •Cited References ________________________________________ What is Environmental Sociology? Environmental sociology is the study of the reciprocal interactions between the physical environment, social organization, and social behavior.
Within this approach, environment encompasses all physical and material bases of life in a scale ranging from the most micro level to the biosphere. An important development of this subdiscipline was the shift from a “sociology of environment” to an “environmental sociology. ” While the former refers to the study of environmental issues through the lens of traditional sociology, the latter encompasses the societal-environmental relations (Dunlap and Catton, 1979; Dunlap and Catton, 1994). A diversity of paradigms, themes, and levels of analysis have characterized environmental sociology.
However, despite this diversity, a minimal identity of the subdiscipline has been established through significant empirical research and a theoretical contribution “self-consciously fashioned as a critique to ‘mainstream’ sociology” (Buttel, 1987:468). Two key contributions to this critique are the joint work of Riley Dunlap and William Catton Jr. and that of Allan Schnaiberg. While the former work of Dunlap and Catton, has been more influential within the subdiscipline, Schnaiberg’s work has shaped the discipline as a whole (Buttel, 1987).
Early work of Catton and Dunlap (1978; 1980) emphasized the narrow anthropocentrism of classical sociology. The HEP-NEP distinction–“human exemptionalism ‘paradigm’ and new ecological ‘paradigm'”–contrast traditional sociological thought and emerging environmental sociology. Schnaiberg’s contribution came with the development of the notions of “societal-environmental dialectic” and the “treadmill of production” (1975; 1980). Contrary to Dunlap and Catton, his work is rooted in Marxist political economy and neo-Marxist and neo-Weberian political sociology. ________________________________________
Working Groups in Professional Associations Environmental sociology has existed for approximately twenty-five years as a subdiscipline in the United States. The initial efforts that led to the transition from a sociology of environment to an environmental sociology, however, go back to the mid 1960s. Three working groups within scientific associations synthesize this process (Dunlap and Catton, 1979; Freudenburg and Gramling, 1989). In 1964, within the Rural Sociological Society (RSS), sociologists formed the “Sociological Aspects of Forestry Research Committee. The next year, this committee was renamed “Research Committee of Natural Resource Development” and later evolved to become the current “Natural Resources Research Group,” one of the largest and more active research groups of RSS having common interests with other research groups such as “Sociology of Agriculture. ” In 1972, the “Environmental Problems Division” was added to the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP). It formally organized in 1973 based on a broad range of interests with particular attention to environmentalism and environment as a social problem. Later, this SSSP division was named “Environment and Technology. Following this trend, in 1973, a committee “to develop guidelines for sociological contributions to environmental impact statements” was created within the American Sociological Association (ASA). The next year, this committee became the “Ad Hoc Committee on Environmental Sociology,” and two years later a “Section on Environmental Sociology” was officially recognized. Today’s “ASA Section on Environment and Technology” plays an important role in the greening of the sociological community. It has stimulated new areas of investigation and is responsible for the ENVTECSOC electronic listserv.
At an international level, the “Research Committee on Environment and Sociology” (established in 1971) of the International Sociological Association (ISA) has played an important role. The wide range of interests within this research committee is reflected in the sections planned for the XIV World Congress of Sociology (1998). The environment has also received the attention of other ISA research committees. ________________________________________ Teaching Environmental Sociology The Department of Sociology at Washington State University (WSU) was the first program to offer a specialization in environmental sociology at the Ph.
D. level, reflecting the leadership of its faculty in the construction of the subdiscipline. Today, many other departments around the country have environmental sociology as a concentration in their graduate programs and/or offer courses at the undergraduate level, including the following departments: Rural Sociology at Cornell University; Rural Sociology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison; Sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz; Sociology at Montana State University; Sociology at Northwestern University; and Human Ecology at Cook College, Rutgers University.
A sample of syllabi of courses on environmental sociology or related areas gives a flavor of the dynamism and wide range of interests within the subdiscipline. ________________________________________ Some Relevant Themes As with other subdisciplines, over the years environmental sociology has undergone fragmentation. This reflects, in part, the inherent process of development of reductionist science today and also the wide range of themes and research questions encompassed by societal-environmental interactions.
Without being comprehensive, important issues that have been part of the research agenda of environmental sociologists are highlighted. Links to internet resources are listed. Instead of a list of specific sites, directories of sites are provided. These directories comprise a comprehensive list of internet sites on specific topics, including organizations, projects and activities, electronic journals, libraries, references, documents, or metadatabases. Agriculture – Agriculture, and more precisely, sustainable agriculture, has been an important research area in environmental sociology.
In a broad sense, sustainable agriculture implies a concern with the economic, environmental, and social or community dimensions of farming within a local and regional context (Beus and Dunlap, 1990). Agricultural studies within this ecological perspective have opened new areas of research and contributed to cross-fertilization within sociology and other disciplines. Toxicology, environmental health, and social movements, just to mention a few, are some of these areas. Internet resources •Agriculture – Virtual Library •Not Just Cows •Sustainable Agriculture – Virtual Library •Sustainable Agriculture (Yahoo! )
Energy and Fuels – Sociologists have paid little attention to energy, despite its importance to social life. The current state of the art of sociological reflection is polarized between macro and micro approaches, which has made it quite difficult to integrate variables into the broad theoretical perspectives and more theoretical grounding into empirical studies. In addition, most development of this area of research has paralleled the waves of energy crises. Like other niches within environmental sociology, studies of energy are interdisciplinary and closely related to policy analysis and planning (Rosa et al. , 1988). Internet resources Global Energy Marketplace •Energy (Yahoo! ) Environmental Movement – Studies on the environmental movement are rooted in the social movements’ research tradition. This has been an important and growing area of research within environmental sociology. Topics of interest include origins of the environmental movement, internal organization and network formation, global and local movements, and the political role of environmental organizations. Research on environmental attitudes, values, and behaviors has greatly influenced studies on ideologies and values shared by environmental movements (Dunlap and Catton, 1979; Buttel, 1987).
Internet Resources •Environmental Movement (Scarce) Hazards and Risks – In general, “hazards” refers to natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, etc. , and “risk” to human transformation of the environment or technological disasters. While humans have been exposed to hazards for centuries, risk is considered more of a twentieth-century phenomenon. Initial sociological work on risk dates from the mid 1980s. Though studies on natural disasters have a longer history within the field, they have been very much concentrated on “emergency adjustments” instead of adjustments of humans to their physical environments.
More recent sociological work addressing technology have shortened the gap between studies on hazards and risk and promoted a focus on long-term human adjustments or environmental consequences (Dunlap and Catton, 1979, Rosa, 1998). Internet Resources •Hazards and Risk – Virtual Library Leisure/Recreation – This area of research grew up from traditional sociological research on leisure behavior and was key in the transition from a “sociology of environment” to an “environmental sociology. ” Today, it comprises studies on parks and forest, land management and planning, ecotourism, and resource management (Dunlap and Catton, 1979).
The International Symposiums on Society and Resource Management have been an important forum of discussion of these issues within the social sciences. Internet resources •Recreation – Sociosite •ISSRM: Culture, Environment, and Society Natural Resources – Studies of resource-dependent communities are one of the important roots of environmental sociology. Studies departing from this tradition have called attention to the human dimensions of processes, which deplete natural resources. These studies have furnished alternative perspectives on the causes and consequences of, as well as solutions to these processes.
On the one hand, these studies offer alternatives to ones restricted to the biological dimensions; on the other hand, they are alternatives in terms of acknowledging indigenous and other local peoples. Interest on themes such as deforestation, soil conservation practices, and agroforestry systems have grown very rapidly. Internet resources •Forestry – Virtual Library •Agroforestry Social Impact Assessment (SIA) – Studies of impacts have a long tradition within sociology and other sciences, but social or socioeconomic impact assessment as a field emerged in the early 1970s.
Its origin–response to environmental legislation–and its development have combined science and policy-making. In general, SIAs aim to anticipate the likely consequences of a project before it is executed. The field is interdisciplinary by definition and has mainly focused on large-scale construction projects such as energy projects, highways, etc. Two current important challenges in the field of SIA, and hopefully future contributions of it, are to produce new data, both comprehensive and integrated, and to define mechanisms to incorporate scientific knowledge into the political decision-making process (Freudenburg, 1986).
Internet resources •International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) Sustainable Development – Though development studies have a long tradition in sociology, studies on sustainable development emerged in the late 1980s. Sociologists were influenced by the same facts and trends that led to the notion of sustainability defended in Our Common Future, the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), United Nations. Besides the breadth of sociological literature on sustainable development, this is still a contested concept within sociology.
This fact might have more to do with contemporary sociological thinking forged within the rise of the western developmental project (McMichael, 1996) than with inherent challenges of the concept itself. Internet resources •Sustainable Development – CESSE •Sustainable Development Dimensions – FAO •Sustainable Development – Virtual Library •Sustainable Development (Yahoo! ) • [Back to Contents] ________________________________________ Future Perspectives
In the mid 1980s, a time of retraction of the environmental momentum, Buttel (1987) noted that in the 1970s, “environmental sociologists sought nothing less than the reorientation of sociology toward a more holistic perspective that would conceptualize social processes within the context of the biosphere. These lofty intentions, however, have largely failed to come to fruition . . . [In addition,] environmental sociology has become routinized and is now viewed–both by its practitioners and other sociologists–less as a scholarly ’cause’ or movement than as just another sociological specialization” (1987:466).
This change of route in the development of environmental sociology reflects two orders of issues: 1) the historical circumstances at the national and international level, such as the emergence of the environmental critique and the energy crisis in the early 1970s and waves of declined interest in the 1980s, and 2) inherent difficulties to address theoretical issues that sociologists have struggled with since the 1800s: the nature of society, the nature of social stratification, and the means through which social change can come about.
Zavestoski’s (1997) discussion of the theoretical status of current environmental sociology recognizes its limitations. According to this author, a solid theoretical basis for environmental sociology should: 1. “acknowledge, although not necessarily account for, both substructurally environmental phenomena and intentional environmental phenomena; 2. account for the unique position of humans as both a part of the web of life as well as social, self-reflective, and moral beings; 3. trive to avoid biological reductionism and social determinism; 4. establish the proper relation between social constructivism and logical positivism/empirical realism; 5. determine the usefulness of ecological concepts; and 6. acknowledge the role of the social psychological process of the self in micro-level decision-making about behaviors that affect the environment” (1997:6). It is interesting to note that these guidelines parallel some of the early challenges and aims that led to the emergence of nvironmental sociology in the 1970s and that remain broader challenges to the discipline as a whole. Current areas of research within environmental sociology and emerging ones such as environmental justice, global environmental change, and urban environment, would greatly benefit from these theoretical advances. More than that, however, if environmental sociologists are able to address these issues, “traditional sociology could as easily be seen as a more limited form of environmental sociology–a form of sociology that deliberately limits its vision. . ” (Gramling and Freudenburg, 1996). ________________________________________ Sociology Journals Environmental sociology is poorly represented in mainstream American sociology journals. Fewer than two percent of all articles published in nine mainstream sociology journals from 1969 through 1994 discussed the environment. Higher-prestige journals were even less likely to publish environmental articles. In the 1990s, the number of articles on the environment increased (Krogan and Darlington, 1996).
Some sociology or social sciences journals more open to environmental analysis include: •The American Sociologist (special issue, 1994 vol. 25(1)) •Human Ecology •Rural Sociology •Social Forces •Social Problems (special issue, 1993, vol. 40) •Social Science Quarterly (special issues, 1996 vol. 77(3); 1997, vol. 78(1), and vol. 78(4)) •Society and Natural Resources •Sociological Forum •Sociological Inquiry (special issue, 1993, vol. 53) •Sociological Perspectives •The Sociological Quarterly •Sociological Spectrum (special issue, 1993, vol. 13) ________________________________________