The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition
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The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition

Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate

This thoroughly revised Handbook provides an assessment of the scope and content of environmental sociology, and sets out the intellectual and practical challenges posed by the urgent need for policy and action to address accelerating environmental change.
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Chapter 9: Socio-ecological Agency: From ‘Human Exceptionalism’ to Coping with ‘Exceptional’ Global Environmental Change

David Manuel-Navarrete and Christine N. Buzinde


David Manuel-Navarrete and Christine N. Buzinde Introduction With the advent of global environmental change, sociology is urged not only to acknowledge the environment, but also to re-examine its own conceptual constructs with regard to socio-ecological dynamics. In this chapter, we reformulate the concept of agency in light of the overwhelming influence that human beings are currently exerting over the Earth’s metabolism. The notion of socio-ecological agency is introduced to provide a new understanding of what it means to be human in the global change era. Socio-ecological agency does not shift the locus of agency away from human beings. Agency is still, so to speak, enacted within individual persons. However, it emphasizes the fact that it rarely takes place as an isolated process, and the need to consider people’s ongoing interaction with life support structures as well as with social structures. This notion of agency is consistent with Latour’s recognition that ‘we are never alone in carrying out a course of action’ (Latour, 2005). Yet it departs from the flat ontology implied in actor-network theory, which assumes that both embodied consciousness and the entire universe of acting and interacting non-human entities share the same type of agency (Mutch, 2002). That is, socio-ecological agency characterizes human beings as ecological actors, social actors and individuals all at the same time. One of the main tasks of environmental sociology is to re-evaluate the dualisms of nature–society and realism–constructivism that have been prevalent in sociological research. Catton and Dunlap (1978: 45) were among...

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