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Theories in Environmental Sociology. Sociological Theories Theory is a story about how and why events in the universe occur. Sociological theories differ.

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Presentation on theme: "Theories in Environmental Sociology. Sociological Theories Theory is a story about how and why events in the universe occur. Sociological theories differ."— Presentation transcript:

1 Theories in Environmental Sociology

2 Sociological Theories Theory is a story about how and why events in the universe occur. Sociological theories differ from commonsensical interpretations of events in the sense that sociologists use the tools of reason or logic and empirical evidence to build theories This is different from assumptions people make about the world based on values, and their own experiences or interpretations.

3 Sociological Theories This is not to claim that sociological theories lack imperfections … they are all partial. Theorizing is about searching for cause and effect relationships. Keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation.

4 Sociological Theories A theory can – Provide guidance for investigation – Make people think in broader terms that immediate relationships being investigated – Help add new concepts or ideas to the general framework of the theory – Help us generate hypotheses about relationships between concepts

5 Sociological Theories However, having a theory can also present problems. It can – Blind us to ideas or relationships not covered by the theory – Lead us to think at the wrong level of analysis for the problem(s) being investigated – Make us exclude possible causes.

6 The Birth of Environmental Sociology Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring (1962) Murray Bookchin “social ecology” (1960s) Garrett Hardin Tragedy of the Commons (1968) Earth Day (1970) UN Conference on Environment & Development (1972) Catton & Dunlap late 70s HEP vs NEP

7 Theories in Environmental Sociology Neo-Marxist Political- Economy Theories Neoliberal TheoriesSecond Modernity Theories Ecological Marxism Treadmill of Production World –System Theory Ecological Modernization Theory Risk Society

8 Ecological Marxism Murray Bookchin’s social ecology In order to understand environmental problems we need to seek their source in the system of inequality humans have created. Emphasizes the contradictions that exist in capitalism … contradictions that undermine the social and environmental factors that sustains the system

9 Treadmill of Production Allan Schnaiberg The Environment (1980) Human economies make withdrawals of raw materials to make stuff with use or exchange value and make additions in the form of pollution or garbage. Aim of production is grow profits for capitalists and investors. This has lead to increased technology replacing labor, increased withdrawals and additions.

10 Treadmill of Production

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12 Neoliberal Theories Market seen as the best mechanism to achieve important societal goals, such as development and eradication of poverty Ecological Modernization Theory Seeks to reform or modernize rather than radically change. Capitalism is adaptable enough to be greened, and the market is the best mechanism to generate concrete environmental solutions

13 Second Modernity Theories: Risk Society Influenced by the sociology of Max Weber ( ) … emphasis was on the increasing rationalization of modern society and its contradictions or irrational consequences. Beck - Risks are created by social decisions, instead of naturally occurring hazards Loss of faith in the institutions of modernity “Reflexivity” is the key element in uncovering solutions to the problems faced by modern societies, including environmental ones.

14 Final Thoughts The above theories often provide competing explanations about the relationship between human societies and the environment. However, they also complement each other As climate change becomes a reality, it will become necessary for environmental sociologists to improve their theoretical models, combine them and/or develop new ones.


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