The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology
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The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology

Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate

The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology is a major interdisciplinary reference work on the developing field of environmental sociology. It consists of over 30 specially commissioned essays by leading scholars from around the world. These original essays examine a wide range of environmental issues in the developed and developing world as well as formerly centrally planned countries to present a truly international perspective. Together they analyse theory and concepts, philosophical and empirical issues as well as offering practical policy advice.
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Chapter 3: Sustainability and social construction

Michael Redclift and Graham Woodgate


Michael Redclift and Graham Woodgate INTRODUCTION For historical reasons sociological theory has placed relatively little emphasis on the natural environment, which is often considered of only marginal importance to the discipline. The environment has been considered as a social construction, rendering it amenable to sociological analysis, but removing many urgent dimensions of the ‘material’ environment from the purview of sociologists. Sustainability represents an additional challenge. On the one hand, sociology has often assumed a progressive view of societies’ evolution that is at odds with green thinking. On the other hand, the very normative quality of expressions like ‘sustainable development’ also provoke some embarrassment, since they appear to enrol the social scientist in an intellectual (and practical) project. For all these reasons, and doubtless others, sustainability provides conceptual problems for many sociologists. In this chapter we want to consider the difficulties and, ultimately, opportunities that sustainability provides for sociology, concentrating principally on northern, industrial societies and their role in wider, global relations. We begin with a discussion of sustainable development and consider the objectives, and limitations, of social policies to achieve environmental ends. Next, we consider the dominant tradition represented by constructionism, and the difficulties encountered in using social constructionism to change, rather than to understand, environmental problems today. This, in turn, leads to a consideration of two bodies of theory, and practice, which contain an explicit intention to change existing (unsustainable) social relations: the development of sustainability indicators and the concern with ‘ecological modernization’. The extent to which these developments...

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