The Social Construction of Nature - Environment

The Social Construction of
Environmental Sociology
• Activities may include the study of …
– Environment movement, public opinion, natural
resource uses, social impacts of technology,
inequality and environmental justice,
constructions of nature and gender, the
economics and politics of environmental policy,
sustainable community design, or particular issues
that dealt with climate change, deforestation,
population growth, ….
Environmental Sociology
• The job of theory in Environmental Sociology
is to make the social structure of every day life
visible—that is, to identify the stable,
persistent, often hidden patterns of social
relationships that become established over
• Two way process … illuminates social and
environmental connections that are not
immediately obvious.
Social Structure
• The invisible “strings” that link individuals to
social groups and to the environment in a
patterned way.
• Why are these relationships so invisible in the
first place?
– Some are taken for granted and are simply not
thought about
– Others are masked by power relationships
– Complex … making it difficult to discern a pattern
Social Structure
• Environmental sociology offers theoretical
models that make key relationships more visible
and allow us to understand better what hold
them in place
• By making structures more visible, theory allow
offers us the opportunity to make more conscious
choices about participating in or changing these
• Without understanding how they work, and who
and what is attached to them (including
ourselves), conscious choice is impossible.
Social Structure
Sociologists analyze how three levels of social
structure affect human action:
– microstructures (patterns of intimate social
relations formed during face-to-face interaction)
– macrostructures (patterns of social relations
outside and above one’s circle of intimates and
– global structures (patterns of social relations
outside and above the national level)
• Micro-level concept
• Refers to how we constantly work to
transform “nature” into culture, filtering it
through the screen of social meanings that we
have learned.
• “Being in nature implies being in culture”
…since culture influence how and what we
interpret to be nature.
Copyright 2003 - Thomson Nelson
• We are constantly at work negotiating
meaning and constructing reality (or having it
done for us) – much of such work making and
maintaining boundaries between categories.
• For e.g. Where is the line drawn between
humans and other animals? Which animals
are food or pets? Do you know the names of
trees and birds in your backyard? Do you
know where your trash goes?
• Using the concept of naturework we can
explain … throwing garbage out of the car
– Separate from nature
– Not accountable
– Trivial –doesn’t matter
• Human Exemptionalist Paradigm (HEP)
– Apart of ecological systems
– In a controlling position that is enhanced by our
• New Ecological Paradigm (NEP)
– See ourselves as part of the ecological system of
the planet
– Where unthinkable acts … would be more evident.
Constructing our Identities
• The advertising industry works around the
clock to construct us primarily as consumers
always in need of newer, more cutting edge
• But environmental sociology can help identify
who is helped and harmed by a particular
technology to evaluate costs & benefits.
How is nature being constructed here?
Question #5
• Find an advertisement of some sort (a
commercial or picture)
• Describe the nature work that is being done
(what messages are we getting about being
human. What messages are we getting about
• Today, we have growing evidence that the
mainstream script on “conquering” nature is
fraying around the edges, under pressure from
the realities of global warming and impending
oil scarcity, as well as movements from social
and environmental justice.
• To arrive at a critique and to construct fresh
choices, a person need to have thought about
it and to become aware of the many uses (and
abuses) of naturework.