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Chapter 16

New Society - Sixth Edition - Chapter 16.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Adam Green

SOCIOLOGY REVIEW CHAPTER 16: SOCIOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT INTRODUCTION:  Sociology’s interest in the environment is of relatively recent vintage, stretching back only to the 1970s  There are several reasons for this neglect: - The term “environment” came to mean something different from our physical surroundings at the time of the early pioneers of sociology and the founders of the field downplayed the role of biological and physical factors in influencing human affairs and focused on the social factors instead (emphasis on nurture instead of nature) - The reluctance to embrace the study of the environment is also due to sociologists’ view of technology, natural resources and human progress; technology functioned as the linchpin of economic development (called the HUMAN-EXCEPTIONALISM PARADIGM which featured the ideals of evolving social progress, increasing prosperity and material comfort, and class mobility for all segments of society); view left little attention to the environmental costs of growth such as pollution, health hazards, and the loss of diversity, and there was little consideration given to the constraints that imposed on economic expansion  By the early 1970s, stimulated by increased societal attention to urban decay, pollution, overpopulation, resource shortages, and so on, a number of sociologists began to study environmental issues  Dunlap and Catton distinguished between a sociology of environmental issues and environmental sociology  SOEI was concerned with environmentally related phenomena such as resource management problems and also concerned with the environmental movement  ES focused on the physical environment as a factor that may influence or is influenced by social behaviour  Today, ES has also become a catchall for the study of all social aspects of the environment; it has propelled sociological inquiry into new areas  However, the field has made it difficult to assemble a cohesive body of work built on strong theoretical foundations  The sociological study of the environment has developed from multiple nuclei, each reflecting a different philosophical position and a corresponding research agenda; this tendency has been shown through published works and organizations  A unifying element is the widely shared recognition of the existence of a key value conflict ENVIRONMENTAL VALUE CONFLICT:  A central focus is the value cleavage between environmentalists and their opponents  At the core of the disagreement is the long-accepted notion that the environment is something to be actively used and exploited  S. Cotgrove lays out two conflicting paradigms: - THE DOMINANT PARADIGM  Is anchored by two core values: the moral imperative of material wealth creation and the moral conviction that humans have the inalienable right to dominate nature and harness the environment to that all  All major institutions reflect the acceptance of this (Example: the media link political competence and achievement with an expanding economy and job creation)  Economic growth carries other values: the view that society is best organized on a large-scale, centralized basis, respect for authority, the ascendancy of law and order, and confidence in science and technology  Progress is interpreted as the increasing encroachment of civilization - THE ALTERNATIVE ENVIRONMENTAL PARADIGM  Rejects both pillars of enterprise culture  Adherents value the natural environment for its own sake, questioning the human right to domination  The claim is the earth’s resources are limited and must be conserved  Society should adopt small-scale, decentralized economic and political structures that are in harmony with nature  The value conflict arches over a wide spectrum of issues and problems related to sociology and the environment  It infuses the continuing debate over world population growth as a primary factor contributing to environmental degradation  The conflict has surfaced in connection with the debate over global warming, where two sets of people can be identified: those who hope that new technologies will provide a viable solution, and those who seek a fundamental reconnection of the way humans live  A major attempt to bridge the differences between the dominant and alternative environmental outlooks can be found in the idea of SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (= development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs)  The idea of sustainable development was established in 1987 in a UN report called the Brundtland report which foresaw a new form of economic growth, especially for developing nations, that would be environmentally aware and egalitarian, integrating objectives for social development with the demands of science  The report suggests that it is possible to have the best of both worlds: continued economic growth but not at the expense of the environment  Many environmentalists have been critical of the concept of SD: - It is difficult to balance economic growth and natural resource use with environmental protection - SD requires an extraordinary degree of cooperation and a deep commitment to reform which is difficult to achieve, especially in the nations of the southern hemisphere where rural economies are still controlled by landowners ENVIRONEMTNAL ATTITUDES, CONCERNS, AND BEHAVIOURS:  One of the first and most important efforts to develop a research tool with which to measure an environmental view of the world was Dunlap and Van Liere’s new environmental paradigm scale (NEP) which developed a 12 item scale that measures the extent of agreement with statements  Researchers found that the general public moderately accepted the content of the emerging environmental paradigm, whereas environmentalists strongly endorsed it  A simple approach to measure environmental concern is to ask people how worried or upset they are about a series of environmental problems OR to ask respondents to weigh tradeoffs  Grossman and Potter formulated the BROADENING-BASE HYPOTHESIS = predicts that environmental concern will eventually diffuse throughout all groups  Buttel promoted the ECONOMIC-CONTINGENCY HYPOTHESIS = suggests that the broadening of the social bases of environmental concern depends on prevailing economic conditions; Buttel argued that when economic conditions worsen or are perceived to be getting worse, those who are least well off will be the first to shift their focus from the environment to the economy  The social bases of environmental concern: - In the 70s and 80s, income and occupational prestige were weakly related to environmental concern - Higher levels of education, youth, political liberalism, and urban residence were found to be the best predictors of concern with environmental quality - Those who are proactive in their positions on environmental issues were more likely to report engaging in pro-environmental behaviours than those who were sympathetic - More were inclined to attend a public hearing and meeting about the environment and to contact a government agency to get information or complain about an environmental problem - Those who are positively environmentally concerned, there is no willingness to go beyond low-cost, personal actions to make sacrifices to the environment - It appears that most people are willing to pay lip service to protecting the environment and will behave responsibly as long as it is not appreciably more expensive or inconvenient to do so - Some pro-environmental behaviours possess more symbolic power than others THE SOCIAL BASE AND COMPOSITION OF THE ENVIRONMENT MOVEMENT:  In the 19 century, the environment movement was largely the creation of an elite  These elite organizations would enlist the support of the general public in specific campaigns  In Canada, the movement developed differently; environmental initiatives were more likely to be developed by small groups of dedicated civil servants who were able to convince the federal government to take action  When the modern environmental movement emerged in the late 60s and early 70s, it was created by the upper middle classes who were well-educated professionals from urban and suburban backgrounds and university students from white-collar backgrounds  Favoured issues related to saving nature over those relating to urban environments  Recent environmentalists have been identified as members of a new middle class drawn from social and cultural specialists such as teachers, social workers & journalists who work in creative or public service oriented jobs  The new middle class tend to be more radical as a group than the population as a whole, are more likely to seek out jobs in the public sector, away from the pressures of a business environment that is often hostile to their values, and tend to become personally involved in the problems faced by their clients ENVIRONMENTAL MOBILIZATION OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT:  Much of the research has focused on community-based, grassroots environmental organizations  It is not a simple matter to mobilize neighbours in the face of an environmental threat  Most people want to avoid trouble and must be actively convinced that their present situation is both unjust and intolerable before they will consider taking action  Caught up in the demands of everyday life, respectful of the voices of authority who downplay the problem, and blinded by the pride of home ownership, people tend to accept the status quo and must be persuaded to redefine their situation in such a way that they can see it as a violation of their basic rights  Common neighbourhood perceptions about a toxic environment do not form easily  Perceptions are relationally anchored; the process of contamination is slow and gradual rather than imposed  Toxic uncertainty also derived from the labour of confusion performed by powerful actors (Example: state politicians and officials show minimal concern)  In the cases where collective action does occur, local communities pass through four stages in the process of challenging polluters: 1. Residents come to see themselves as victims of corporate environmental crime 2. They make individual appeals to government regulatory agencies to take action to force an end to the problem 3. The complainants become disillusioned with the slow pace or absence of official action and begin to seek environmental justice 4. Increased democratic pressure has either convinced government regulators to enforce environmental standards or proven insuffient in which case the problem continues  The environmental movement aims to convince as a wide a segment of the world of the public as possible that its interpretation of the world is correct and should be acted on  Members of the movement develop FRAMES (=interpretations of events and their meanings)  Successful framing involves three elements: 1. DIAGNOSTIC = identifying a problem and assigning the blame for it 2. PROGNOSTIC = offers a proposed solution to the diagnosed problem 3. MOTIVATIONAL = a call to arms to potential recruits to take specific corrective action  The better the three are integrated, the greater their capacity for mobilizing people  Contemporary environmental frames are frequently constructed around the image of an impending global collapse  In the early 70s, authors forecasted that Earth’s carrying capacity (the optimum population size that the planet can support under present environmental conditions) would eventually be exceeded  In the 80s, the threat shifted to that of biosphere crisis, generated by global climate changes resulting from increased emissions of greenhouse gases
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