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Theories in Environmental Sociology

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Presentation on theme: "Theories in Environmental Sociology"— 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 The emergence of the field of ES reflect preoccupation with the state of the environment in the US in the 1960s and early 1970s.

7 Theories in Environmental Sociology
Neo-Marxist Political-Economy Theories Neoliberal Theories Second 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
Story of stuff – 99% of what we buy is gone in 6 mos

11 Heavy economic emphasis
Heavy economic emphasis. It emerged largely as a reaction to neoliberal theories of development, especially modernization theory, in the debate about the causes of development and underdevelopment. Modernization theory argued that the “traditional” values of TW societies were largely responsible for their underdevelopment. These societies were described as rigid, undemocratic, unscientific, uneducated, and in need of modernization, which meant capitalism, political reform, and Westernization of values. Particularly powerful in the 1950s 1960s. WST emerged largely as a reaction to this blame-the-victim approach. A important feature of this theory is that capitalism has led to increasing rationalization and commodification. Rationalization is a complicated process of social change that involves the demystification of the world through the replacement of tradition, emotions, religious dogma, etc., by impersonal bureaucratic institutions and science. Commodification means the transformation of anything, including human beings, into goods or commodities that can be sold in the market; a market exchange value is attached to them. Another important feature of this theory is dominance … homo economicus … who shapes the rules of the system in the pursuit of profit

12 Ecological Modernization Theory
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. For Beck risk is a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernization itself. Modern societies differ from other forms of society in the sense that risks are created by decision, instead of naturally occurring hazards such as famines, floods, and so on, which plague other societies Beck suggests that a problem faced by modern societies is the loss of faith in the institutions of modernity such as science, business, and politics. These institutions were supposed to guarantee rationality and security, but they failed. Beck also argues that modern societies have experienced the collapse of collective or group specific sources of meaning. Risk society scholars generally argue that “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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