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The Environment: A Sociological Introduction

ISBN: 978-0-7456-3433-3
208 pages
April 2007, Polity
The Environment: A Sociological Introduction (0745634338) cover image
How are human societies changing the global environment?
Is sustainable development really possible?
Can environmental risks be avoided?
Is our experience of nature changing?

This book shows how questions about the environment cannot be properly answered without taking a sociological approach. It provides a comprehensive guide to the ways in which sociologists have responded to the challenge of environmental issues as diverse as global warming, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss and marine pollution. It also covers sociological ideas such as risk, interpretations of nature, environmental realism, ecological modernization and globalization. Environmentalism and green politics are also introduced. Unlike many other texts in the field, the book takes a long-term view, locating environmental dilemmas within the context of social development and globalization.
The Environment: A Sociological Introduction is unique in presenting environmental issues at an introductory level that assumes no specialist knowledge on the part of readers. The book is written in a remarkably clear and accessible style, and uses a rich range of empirical examples from across the globe to illustrate key debates. A carefully assembled glossary and annotated further reading suggestions also help to bring ideas to life.
The book will be a valuable resource for students in a range of disciplines, including sociology, geography and the environmental sciences, but also for anyone who wants to get to grips with contemporary environmental debates.
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Acknowledgements vii

Preface ix

1 Natural Environments 1

Defining Nature and Environment 1

Humans in Natural Environments 7

Natural and Artificial Environments 14

Conclusion 16

2 Knowing the Environment 18

Involvement and Detachment 18

The Scientific Revolution 22

Social Constructions of Nature 26

Critical Realism 32

Conclusion 36

3 Experiencing the Environment 38

An Environment of the Senses 38

Experiencing Environments 41

Ecological Identifications 44

Ecological Citizenship 52

4 Transforming the Environment 55

Social Development and the Environment 55

Industrialization 59

Urbanization 64

The Treadmill of Production and Consumption 67

5 Polluting the Environment 72

Types of Pollution 72

Awareness and Significance of Pollution 74

Sensitivity to Risks 80

Conclusion 88

6 Defending the Environment 91

Changing Attitudes 91

The Modern Origins of Nature Conservation 95

The Development of Environmentalism 99

Conclusion 107

7 Politicizing the Environment 109

A Politics of Nature 109

Ecologism: A New Political Ideology 113

The Emergence of Green Parties 116

Conclusion 124

8 Sustaining the Environment 126

The Idea of Sustainable Development 126

A Brief History of Sustainable Development 130

Sustainable Development in Practice 135

Can Societies Become Sustainable? 139

Conclusion 142

9 A Global Environment 144

What is Globalization? 144

The Biosphere as Environment 148

Global Problems, Global Solutions? 150

Conclusion 161

Glossary 164

References and Further Reading 170

Index 178

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P.Sutton, Lecturer in Sociology, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen
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  • A truly introductory text offering comprehensive coverage of the sociology of the environment
  • There are no other general texts on environmental issues aimed at first year undergraduate level
  • An accessible, systematic and empirically grounded text, which avoids abstract theorising and overly technical language
  • Includes boxed case studies and illustrative materials; recommended reading at chapter ends; glossary of key terms
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"This is in every way an excellent textbook."
Times Higher Education

"This book is an excellent introduction for students new to this area of inquiry and should enthuse them to deepen their investigation of some of the most important issues of the 21st century."
Sociology

“In a relaxed and readable style, Sutton introduces key concepts with a light touch, illustrating theories with major events and relevant contemporary issues.”
Area

"Phillip Sutton has crafted a systematic and thorough introduction to the social science of the environment: its definition, transformation, politicization and defence. He expansively charts the emergence of the field and points to how global changes and politics will affect its future. This book will become a key resource for new students of environmental sociology and a point of engagement for future discussion."
Hank Johnston, San Diego State University

"Philip Sutton combines an excellent introduction to the sociology of the environment with an innovative approach to the field. A stimulating and wide-ranging text."
Tim Newton, Exeter University

"Written for undergraduate students, Philip Sutton’s The Environment demands no prior knowledge of sociology. Remaining faithful to its subject matter, the book ranges freely across human and environmental sciences. Sutton rejects the “retreat into the present” that characterizes much contemporary sociology and frames environmental problems in relation to very long-term processes of human social development. This “sociological introduction” is challenging in all the right ways."
Stephen Quilley, Keele University

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