Environmental sociology is a relatively new field or subfield of sociology, which emanated in the early 1980s and eventually became its own discipline. It has been defined as “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” (Sydenstricker-Neto 1997).
Those who study and practice environmental sociology recognize that, since human-caused environmental problems entail many complex factors and diverse actors, our focus needs to include the human-nonhuman interface. Theoretical strands in environmental sociology include environmental justice, global environmental change, and urban-industrial environmental challenges. Environmental sociologists generally examine key social factors that cause environmental problems, explore the societal impacts of such challenges, and design efforts to solve societal-environmental problems.
Applied environmental sociology focuses on this last component, taking a practical or solution-oriented approach. Environmental sociologists try to make useful recommendations for clients, stakeholders, and others, looking for solutions to socio-environmental challenges. Many spend considerable time looking at impacts and issues that affect rural or resource-dependent regions and their inhabitants. They often examine how issues are defined, perceived, and responded to by those who live and work in rural or resource-dependent areas, or are otherwise affected by environmental decisions – whether those decisions are their own or are made by someone else. Others focus on assessing and mitigating social impacts involving proposed or actual industrial or urban developments.
Applied environmental sociologists generally spend considerable time in the field, where they meet and interact face-to-face with the many individuals, groups, communities, and agencies that have connections to environmental issues. To address the complexity of the environmental-societal interface in ways that make sense, they examine various and sometimes opposing perspectives that indicate tensions and conflicts among people and institutions, but that may also point the way toward sustainable solutions. Applied environmental sociologists are driven by the way that people perceive, value, use, and sometimes abuse, our natural resources and the environment. Ultimately, they hope to contribute to better societies and the environment that we depend upon.
- Dunlap, Riley E. and William Michelson (eds.), 2002. Handbook of Environmental Sociology. Greenwood Press. ISBN: 0313268088
- ENVIROSOC. (Web-based discussion list, Environmental Sociology Section List, American Sociological Association).
- Schnaiberg, Allan and Kenneth Alan Gould, 1994. Environment and Society: The Enduring Conflict. St. Martin’s Press. ISBN: 0312091281
- Sydenstricker-Neto, John, 1997. Environmental Sociology: A Resource Page. Web Center for Social Research Methods.