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Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate
Chapter 1: The evolution of environmental sociology: a brief history and assessment of the American experience
1. The evolution of environmental socioloev: a brief history and assessment of the American expenence Riley E. Dunlap INTRODUCTION Nearly two decades ago Catton and I tried to codify the burgeoning but diverse body of sociological work on environmental issues being conducted primarily but not exclusively in the United States by providing an explicit definition of the field of environmental sociology. Included in a thematic issue of The American Sociologist devoted to ‘New Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology’, our article defined the field as ‘the study of interaction between the environment and society’ (Catton and Dunlap, 1978). We also contended that examining such interaction would require overcoming sociology’s traditional and deep-seated reluctance to acknowledge the relevance of the physical environment for understanding contemporary societies. We argued that in particular the Durkheimian tradition of explaining social phenomena only in terms of other ‘social facts’, plus an aversion to earlier excesses of biological and geographical ‘determinism’, had led sociologists to ignore the physical world in which humans live. These disciplinary traditions were further strengthened, we suggested, by the emergence of sociology during an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity, fuelled by resource abundance and technological progress. Along with increased urbanization, which reduced contact with nature, these societal trends made it easy for sociologists to assume that, at least within industrial societies, human life was becoming increasingly independent of the physical world. Consequently, we claimed that our discipline had come to assume that the exceptional features of homo sapiens - language, technology, science and...
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