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Environmental Sociology

The relationship between human societies and their natural and built environments. Topics may include the social construction of nature; the relationships between capitalism, materialism, and environmental degradation at local and global levels; urban development and growth; environmental racism; environmental justice and activism; the politics of environmental regulation and resource management; and the prospects for environmental sustainability. Meets the Critical Perspectives: Social Inequality requirement. Meets the Critical Learning: SHB requirement. Meets the Equity and Power: EPUS requirement.

Degree requirement — Critical Learning: SHB, Critical Perspectives: S, Equity and Power: EPUS

1 unit — Roberts

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This course examines the political and institutional conditions that produce and organize environmental degradation and disruption, give shape to patterns of environmental inequality, and foment conflict. It concludes by examining the conditions and strategic actions that improve the chances for positive environmental outcomes and ecological sustainability.
While there is a wide range of issues that can be addressed under the rubric of environmental sociology, we focus our attention on three broad topical areas. First, we examine the “drivers” of environmental disruption—the social and economic forces of modern capitalist societies that account for the pace and patterning of environmental degradation. Specifically, we examine the social dynamics of hyper-consumption, the logic, structure, and political support systems of capitalism, and the environmental and social consequences of the globalization of capitalist modes of production and development. Second, we examine the socio-environmental impacts and costs of unequal development and environmental degradation. We focus on two issues in particular: (1) the “natural resource curse”—the fact that natural resource wealth is often correlated with underdevelopment, environmental devastation, and conflict; and (2) environmental inequality—the unequal distribution of the environmental hazards and risks that are the result of our consumption and production practices and long-standing systems of social and economic inequality. Lastly, we address how sociological insights can inform efforts at bringing about a more just, sustainable future. In doing so, we examine the diversity of responses to environmental problems, including those targeted at organizations, corporations and industries, and governments. We also examine the conservative/corporate countermovement and recent political obstacles to environmental reform, particularly as they relate to global warming.

Throughout the course, we address the above issues at local, national, and global levels, looking for ways of moving between them to connect problems and solutions. The course emphasizes that positive environmental outcomes do not rest solely or even primarily on individual attitudes about the environment, but depend more critically on larger social institutions and power relations in which individuals and organizations are embedded.
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