Society and Environment Reading Notes
Chapter 2: Human Systems, Environment & Social Science
A network of interdependent actors (individuals, organizations, subsystems)
that are in relatively stable patterns of interaction and intercommunication.
These actors share cultural patterns.
Everything is ultimately connected to everything else
You can‟t ever do or change just one thing without some consequences
Elements of sociocultural systems:
Culture= worldviews, paradigms, ideologies, knowledge, beliefs, values,
Social Structure= World system, society, Nation state, complex organizations,
social stratification systems, small groups, kinship systems, status roles.
Material Infrastructure= wealth, material culture, technologies, human
population, human environment relations, biophysical resources.
The total learned way of life that people in groups share
Has both symbolic and material dimensions
Worldviews (flat earth)
Thomas Kuhn- Structure of scientific revolutions;
Kuhn argued for an episodic model in which periods of such conceptual
continuity in normal science were interrupted by periods of revolutionary
science. During revolutions in science the discovery of anomalies leads to a
whole new paradigm that changes the rules of the game.
Hegemony= the cultural predominance of one country upon another‟s.
Both structural and cultural
Supported as they are by powerful cultural customs and laws.
Structural units of human systems are statuses and roles. Your status is the
„rank‟ and your social role is what you are „expected to do‟.
Population size and characteristics= growth population > develop complex
subsystems, more demands on biophysical environment.
The Duality of Human Life
The cultural uniqueness of human beings
We are species among many but we are the unique creators of technologies
and sociocultural environments that have the power to change, manipulate,
destroy etc. (Buttel, 1986). Humans act on the basis of such viewpoints rather than on the basis of what
the world „really is‟.
Anthropocentrism= is the position that human beings are the central or most
significant animal species.
Worldviews and Cognized Environments
Human social behaviour is more directly related to symbolic constructions and
definitions of situations than by external environments. > People exist in
natural environments but live and act in worlds mediated and constructed by
Cognitive environments are also components
Symbolism (Bourdieu – Symbolic Capital in finite supply)
Stoicism=The Stoics provided a unified account of the world, consisting of
formal logic, non-dualistic physics and naturalistic ethics. Of these, they
emphasized ethics as the main focus of human knowledge.
Bruce Morito ~ beyond anthropocentrism
Epistemology= (understanding knowledge)
Phenomenology= in Husserl's conception, is primarily concerned with the
systematic reflection on and study of the structures of consciousness and the
phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness.
HISTORICAL CHANGE, HUMAN-ENVIRONMENT RELATIONSHIPS AND
Survived by gathering edible wild plants and killing animals, and foraged.
Travelled in bands of about 50 people following game and the seasons
carrying all possessions with them. Each band was independent but shared
language, cultures and territory etc.
10,000 years ago people discovered how to cultivate crops and to
domesticate and breed animals.
Horticuluturalists and pastoralists could produce a large and more certain food
More division of labour.
Increase in social inequality-social elites > rules, specialists, who looked after
Land exploitation and surplus
Technological advance-stimulated the invention of metalworking, craft
production of all sorts and military conquest, slavery and empires.
Human social life vastly increased. Population increased.
90% of people lived as farmers in rural villages
Social differentiation and complexity increased
Hierarchies; 1) kings and nobles 2) priest and scribes 3) merchants and
warriors 4) craft workers 5) vast majority at the bottom who worked the land.
>gender inequality became far more pronounced and life became shorter-
health grain-based diets were less nutritious and less varied. The Human-Environment connection in Agriculture
Many agriculture societies degraded the productivity of their soils and rivers
Keeping too many animals on semi-arid rangeland
Long-term processes of desertification and land degradation included times of
accelerated rates of loss of arable land and land reclamation (Adams, 1981).
Worldviews in Agricultural Societies
Dominant word view (DWV) began to shift from people-in-nature to people-
controlling (or against) nature. > Humans domination of nature to accumulate
wealth and materials.
Industrialisation depends upon- first the textile industry in England- substituted
machine production for human and animal labour. New energy recourses to
People migrated to cities – jobs etc.
New class system based on industrial wealth evolved
Work became separated from family life
Massive development in scientific discovery and application of science
Separated humans from nature, destroyed sense of community and made us
dependent on vast international systems.
Produces fragmented (autonomous) individuals and families with little
connection to community at several levels (Young, 1994).
Human-Environment Relations in Industrial Societies
Increased human use and withdrawals from biophysical resource base.
Biggest change was the use of fossil fuels.
The Dominant Worldviews of Industrial Societies
DWV= humans, by virtue of culture and technology have a unique power to
change, manipulate and sometimes transcend natural environmental limits;
Low evaluation of nature
Compassion mainly for those near and dear
Maximising wealth is important (even with risks)
No physical limits to growth that can‟t be overcome by technological
Assumption that modern society, culture and politics are basically okay.
EXPLAINING SOCIOCULTURAL EVOLUTION: HUMAN ECOLOGY AND
Ecosystems and Sociocultural Evolution
Sociocultural evolution begins when humans compete for control over limited
natural resources > some people and groups develop more efficient
infrastructures related to subsistence.
Human Ecology Theory;
Social Symbolic culture,
Biophysical Culture care, organization,
Environment material social ideologies.
infrastructure. structure. Symbol systems can blend, and components can be added or subtracted from
culture, thereby making it difficult to predict what is being inherited or
transformed (Freese). > Humans systems don‟t evolve but they change and
The evolution of complex Sociocultural systems;
settled cities, city- nation
bands, villages, states, states, systems of
hunter- agriculture ancient urban nations,