Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate
Chapter 10: A coevolutionary environmental sociology
Richard B. Norgaard INTRODUCTION Environmental sociologists have documented the concerns and social movements arising out of environmental change associated with modernization in capitalist societies. In the sociological tradition, environmental sociologists have taken modernization as inevitable. This has meant that, for the most part, neither societies before modernization nor non-modern societies have been considered seriously. While this boundary demarcates sociology from history and anthropology, it has meant that environmental sociology has not been broadly comparative. To the extent that a few sociologists have endeavoured to explain how environmental changes themselves have arisen, they have rooted the problem in the social distancing associated with modernity or in the inherent structure of capitalism. While these explanations are socially historical, they are not environmentally historical, for the biophysical world has not played a historical role in the way environmental problems manifest themselves. The coevolutionary environmental sociology developed in this chapter addresses these shortcomings. It can be used to explore how modern and non-modern societies have differed, it provides an explanation of the ways in which people affect their environments and environments affect people over time, and it can be used to document culturally and environmentally specific histories. Sociology’s modernist beginnings, reviewed in the first section, have constrained sociological thought on progress and the environment in a manner which has made it ill-suited for interpreting current environmental crises. Similarly, because sociologists have had mixed experiences with biological explanations, they have limited their pattern of explanation and now argue that biological thinking should be left to...
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