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Environmental Sociology


The association between societal well-being and environmental quality is increasingly becoming a topic of sociological interest. Environmental sociology is a sub discipline within the field of sociology that studies of the interactions between the physical environment, social organization, and social behavior. Environmental sociologists typically place special emphasis on studying the social factors that cause environmental problems, the societal impacts of those problems, and efforts to solve the problems. The also look at the social processes by which certain environmental conditions become socially defined as problems.

For instance, environmental sociologists aim to understand environmentalism as a social movement, the ways in which members of society perceive environmental problems, and the origins of human-induced environmental decline. Another area of environmental sociological research is the unequal distribution of environmental hazards. These researchers examine the process by which socially disadvantaged populations come to experience greater exposures to various environmental hazards, including natural disasters.

Environmental sociologists examine questions such as:

  • How do social, political, and technological factors contribute to the pollution and wasteful use of resources that threaten ecosystems, humans, and other species?
  • How have burdens such as pollution, waste disposal, and resource extraction come to be unequally distributed among racial and ethnic groups, classes, genders, regions, and nations? How can these inequalities be reduced?
  • How do societies respond to environmental risks and disasters, and how can we foster more effective and equitable strategies?
  • How so social, political, and technological factors drive environmental degradation?
  • How can communities, nations, and the international community build a sustainable relationship between humans and the environment?
  • How is public opinion about environmental issues shaped and mobilized, and how do local, national, and international public opinion influence policy outcomes?
  • What groups are most effective at influencing public policy, how do these groups organize, and what is the impact of their influence?
  • How and why do citizens choose to join and support environmental organizations, and what determines the successes and failures of these groups?


Andersen, M.L. and Taylor, H.F. (2009). Sociology: The Essentials. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

American Sociological Society Section on Environment and Technology. (2011). http://envirosoc.org/visitors.php.

Department of Sociology, University of Colorado at Boulder. (2011). Graduate Program in Environmental Sociology. http://sobek.colorado.edu/SOC/Department/envsoc.html

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