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Environmental Sociology

 We Are All One People and We Have But One Planet


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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.



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