SOC112 SNHU Idea of Social Construction of Nature Questions


Southern New Hampshire University

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1- What does the idea “social construction of nature” signify? Elaborate. 2- How, according to treadmill of production theory, does capitalism affect the environment? Present examples. 3- What is ecological modernization? How, according to this perspective, can economic growth continue along with protection of nature? 4- What is world system's theory's main argument in terms of environmental concerns in the developing regions of global capitalism? 5- How does ecological marxism differ from deep ecology? Environment Sociology: Lecture 1 From Chapter 1 and 2 of Gould and Lewis Basic Questions • What is nature? • How do you differentiate between nature and culture? What is Environmental Sociology? • Scientific study of how social systems interact with ecosystems. • Traditionally, sociology (study of social systems) and ecology (study of environment/ecosystems) have been considered separate disciplines without much in common. • Lately, sociology has been compelled to address environmental issues and ecology forced to think of social causes of env change. Where does this disciplinary divide come from? • A basic assumption in Western intellectual tradition is the division between natural systems and social/cultural systems produced by humans • Early sociologists drew on this divide: natural sciences dealt with natural phenomena and social sciences studied social phenomena. • Lately such strict distinctions have been deemed not useful because it is increasingly acknowledged that both influence each other. Env Sociology – A Brief History • How did Environmental Sociology emerge as an acceptable sub-discipline of study? • The historical context -- the ecology movement in the 1960s and 1970s set the stage for development of Env Soc. • In 1976, American Sociological Association (ASA) started Environmental Sociology as a topical section. • Now that section is called Environment and Technology section of ASA Some Real World Events – concerns about Environment • Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969 – third largest oil spill (the largest is the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in Gulf of Mexico) • Hooker Chemical buried 21,000 tons of toxic waste in Love Canal, a residential neighborhood in Niagara Falls, NY – leading to health problems (1977-78) • Accident at the nuclear power plant in Three Mile Islands (1979) releasing high levels of radioactive substances • Oil crisis of the 1970s (“limits to growth”) New Environmental Organizations • Environmental Defense Fund established in 1967 – research done by some of its founders contributed to understanding the negative impacts of DDT • Friends of the Earth in 1969 – membership in 77 countries; does research on impact of economic globalization on communities etc. • Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 1970 Political Events • Passing of National Environmental Policy Act in Congress in 1970. • Establishment of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in 1970 • Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act (1972) • Pesticide Control Act (1972) • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976) • First Earth Day – observed in 1970 (April 22) • UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm -- 1972 Intellectual Developments • HEP and NEP • What is anthropocentrism? Critique of Anthropocentrism in Sociology • William Catton and Riley Dunlap (1970) wrote a series of articles critiquing anthropocentrism in sociological theories. • Dominant sociological theorists (Durkheim, Marx and Weber) presented a view of humans and society as the center of the world. • This paradigm was labeled Human Exceptionalism (recently Exemptionalism) Paradigm (HEP) • They called for an alternative paradigm – New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) NEP • NEP was based on the understanding that humans are one of the many species living on this planet in an inter-dependent manner. • New Ecological Paradigm calls for making this awareness the basis of all human, social, economic and political decisions, policies and actions • This calls for halting superexploitation of resources • What is naturework? Symbolic interactionism • A theoretical perspective in sociology that emphasizes the significance of small group interactions in constructing reality (microsociology) • Understands society as constituted of multiple interactions among individuals governed by symbols (eg. language, culture, manners etc.) • symbolic interactionists think of the reality that we live by as “socially constructed” through multiple interactions. Naturework • Env Sociologists recognize that the environment or nature is an objective reality that’s out there. • Yet, we do not perceive nature as it exists. • We become cognizant of nature in particular ways, thereby nature itself becomes “real” to us – Gary Fine called this idea “naturework” • In other words, naturework is the process by which nature is transformed (appropriated) into culture, using the social meanings that we have learned. • Naturework provides us with ways of thinking about nature based upon which we act/behave • There are many forms of nature work possible Social construction of nature • A dominant form of naturework in our society includes processes by which we construct certain spaces as “natural” and raw and others as “cultured”. • This has enormous significance for how we interact with the environment • In sum, naturework is the process by which humans socially construct “nature”; this social construction has bearing on how we act to “nature” • it is part of everyday processes of interpreting humans’ interaction with nature • Examples?? Examples of naturework • The act of tossing a can out of a car window on a highway underlies a type of naturework. • What does it say about naturework? – or how do we construct nature in our everyday existence? • This act of tossing a can out of a car presupposes the freeway side as a “raw” spaces that belongs to nature; not the cultured environs of the home of the person who does the tossing. Tossing the can on highway side: its meaning • In the former case, there is a “separation” between the person who tosses the can and the freeway side; in the latter such separation may not exist (this is based on the nature-culture distinction) • The freeway side is thought of as inorganic matter; not part of organic and lively environment (of which he too is part) • Importantly, the person who tosses the can also doesn’t feel “accountable” to that “raw, inorganic” space with which he/she doesn’t feel any necessary connection Another snapshot • Time magazine once had a faceless individuals in front of a computer as the Person of the Year • The magazine was celebrating the possibilities of freedoms (of information, ability to conquer distances through instantaneous communication etc.) that the internet made available • The underlying “naturework” here is that of thinking about nature as limiting freedoms; and humans as capable of transcending such limitations • While expanding freedoms is laudable, the question is: what are the costs, both for humans and nature, of the expansion of such freedoms? Space and Place: Disembedding and Distanciation • This separation (or disconnect) that humans feel with their immediate environments is what Anthony Giddens has called “disembedding” • Part of human’s alienation from nature • Giddens also refers to “distanciation” – the ability to connect with people spatially away from you in quick time (conquering space) • This has led to a disconnect between “space” and “place” How does naturework happen? • Humans are social animals; various aspects of social systems (all interrelated) contribute to constructing naturework. • Economic system (market capitalism) – the need to make more profit means having to produce more (irrespective of whether there is demand for goods); • then markets have to actively find consumers • Cultural systems -- Advertisements do the cultural (and social psychological) work – by playing on “desires” Economy of Desire and the Environment • Desires are actively generated; • Examples: cosmetics that can provide the “natural look”; cars that help “conquer space” (and nature) • Desires fuel ever increasing production of commodities – the idea of “treadmill of production” • This leads to hankering after new technology; the belief in any new technology as representing “progress” • Bell and Carolan call this “technological somnambulism” • Nature and environment continue to be thought of as mere passive “backgrounds” to these social changes. Us as Part of Nature • How can we think of HEP and NEP using this example? • if we thought of nature as an active component of our lives and not just a background, then how would we treat the environment? • Then, perhaps our cultural perception (regarding nature as a subservient background to human exceptionalism) would change • Perhaps this change in outlook will reflect in our actions – we may not contribute as much to env destruction Rethinking Naturework • Michale Bell and Michael Carolan – the status quo of consumption and related cultural practices will result in enormous environmental harm • Green architect William McDonough talks about a cradle to cradle concept – recycling. Treadmill • Allan Schnaiberg points out that we live with a “treadmill logic” – the capitalist economic system is constantly producing new things and convincing us that we need these new things: the treadmill of capitalism. • If one steps off this treadmill, he may be seen as an outsider to the society. • How do we understand this concept using naturework? A new naturework • How would we refashion ourselves and our “culture” if we thought of ourselves as part of nature in a “new” naturework? • How would we act if we realized that many our actions may have some impact on nature even if it is not in the immediate environment? Theories in Environmental Sociology Lecture 2, Env Soc Theories • Theories are generalizations about some aspect of the social or natural world based on empirical evidence gathered from observation • Theories differ from other types of generalizations in that they are developed by employing tools of reason or logic Environment and Classical Sociology • Classical sociology emerged in the aftermath of Enlightenment and responded to industrial revolution • A common image of social world and the role of humans: humans were endowed with reason and this reason could be perfected. • Natural laws could be uncovered using reason that would then be used to control nature and ensure progress Malthus, the pessimist • Thomas Malthus in 1798 wrote the famous “Essay on the Principle of Population” • Argued that while population grew geometrically, the amount of land under cultivation grew only arithmetically. • This would lead to food scarcity in time, further leading to the collapse of human civilization • The reason for this food scarcity would be overpopulation • Is Malthus right? Or, are there logical/empirical problems in his argument? Three major Theorists • Marx – humans had the unique ability to think and be rational; yet he was concerned about the alienation that individuals were experiencing in class societies, particularly at the time of industrial revolution • Durkheim – was concerned about maintenance of social order; claimed that individuals in society live by “social facts” (widely accepted and shared notions about how social phenomena works) • Weber – analyzed the changes that human civilization was experiencing as part of “rationalization” (which he thought was leading to “disenchantment”). Brundtland Commission Report • These theorists did not explicitly address the question of how human actions are impacting the environment and how nature may put limits to possible human actions. • Perhaps because environmental degradation was not so prevalent in the early days of industrialization • In the 60s and 70s environment became a serious concern • The Brundtland Commission report (titled “Our Common Future”) emphasized sustainable development. Birth of Environmental Sociology • Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring (1962) – on the impact of pesticides on the environment. • Introduction of Earth Day in 1970 • Early type of environmental sociology (in the 1920s) – human ecology studies conducted in sociology department in Chicago (Robert E. Park) HEP and NEP • William Catton and Riley Dunlap (wrote a series of articles in late 1970s and early 80s) • HEP – human exceptionalism paradigm (emphasizes culture as determinants of human affairs) • NEP – humans are involved in an intricate set of causal relationships with nature • The biosphere, on which we depend for survival, is finite; • while the carrying capacity of nature can be stretched by human invention, it cannot be done indefinitely Emphasizing Society in Ecology • Prior to environmental concerns in Sociology, scholars in Ecology started to think about the importance of understanding social change • Murray Bookchin, in 1960s, introduced the idea of social ecology. • Ecological problems emerge from deep-seated sociological problems • Hierarchical mentality and class relationships were giving rise to the idea of dominating the natural world Theories: Ecofeminism • Emerged in the 1970s • Found common grounds between domination of women and nature – patriarchy • Rosemary Ruether wrote “New Woman, New Earth” (1975) – called for ending all forms of exploitation, both of women and nature • Called for an ecological society not based on domination Theories: Deep Ecology • Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess identified difference b/w shallow and deep ecologies. • While shallow ecology is concerned with resource depletion and usefulness of Earth for human beings, Deep Ecology is concerned with the intrinsic value of the Earth – its diversity and richness. Arnae Ness’s proposal • • • • • • • harmony with nature, biospherical egalitarianism, self-actualization, awareness of limits to resources, recycling, environment-friendly technologies, recognition of human differences • Bill Devall and George Sessions through their book Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered introduced Naess’s ideas to America • Aside from Naess’s ideas, they introduced ideas from Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Native American religions to emphasize harmony with nature • Bookchin of Social Ecology criticized the profusion of mysticism in Deep Ecology Theories: Neo-Marxism • Emphasizes conflict between classes (the business owners and workers) • Wealth leads to other types of power – status, political power etc. • Workers are alienated in the process • Capitalism is a system that constantly needs to reproduce itself (economic growth) • This puts enormous pressure on environment Ecological Marxism • Murray Bookchin • Environmental problems are best understood in the context of the system of inequalities that humans have created. • Capitalism undermines the factors that sustain it – both labor and environment • Increasing ecological crisis emanating from increasing exploitation of nature will exacerbate the crisis of capitalism. Treadmill of Production • Allan Schnaiberg, “The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity” (1980) • Human societies depend on flows of energy from nature and thus are not exempt from the two basic laws of thermodynamics • Energy and matter can not be created or destroyed, they can be transformed; all energy transformations are degradations that change energy from more to fewer forms (entropy) • Damaging relationship with environment: Withdrawals (raw materials) and additions (waste) • This may lead to disorganization of biospheric systems – with industrialization. • Capitalism works by minimizing labor – by producing new machines • Leads to Production of toxins • The market system supports this system of treadmill of production that constantly changes forms of matter and energy for profit generation World Systems Theory • Opposed modernization theory that posited that “traditionalist” values of third world countries stood in their way of development • WS theory pointed out that capitalist world system (based on production for profit) started emerging since the long 16th century (Immanuel Wallerstein) – 1450 to 1640 • With colonization, a new relation of exploitation was established between the core or center of the capitalist world system and peripheral regions that were colonized • This was based on exploitation of natural resources in the form of raw materials and minerals transported from these areas to capitalist centers • WS theorists argue that this has contributed to the underdevelopment of peripheral countries. • Those areas in the middle – the semiperipheral regions (Brazil, China, India, Mexico etc.) have been attempting to accelerate development • this has led to largescale degradation of environment in these societies Ecological Modernization Theory • Joseph Huber, Martin Janicke, Arthur Mol, Gert Spaargaren. • They emphasize the idea of sustainable capitalism • Superindustrialization as a requirement as opposed to retreat to traditional forms of existence. • This requires development of environmental friendly technologies. Reflexive Modernity • Emphasize reflexive modernity (a notion drawn from postmodern theory) • What is reflexivity? • Government has an important initial role in drafting and implementing environmental policy (stewardship) • However, soon this stewardship goes into the hands of the market. • The state will continue to play an active role in building environmentally friendly infrastructure etc. • “Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution” by economists Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins – is based on ecological modernization theory. • Next industrial revolution will be based on adapting to scarcity – building the right kind of technology. Four Points • Radically increase the productivity of resource use • Shift to biologically inspired production (biomimicry) with closed loops, no waste, and no toxicity. • Shift the business model away from the making and selling of things to providing the service that the “thing” delivers. • Reinvest in natural and human capital. • They emphasize “technofix”. Second Modernity Theories • Ulrich Beck (risk society) • Anthony Giddens (with globalization, modernity that emerged in the West is expanding to all parts of the world) Risk Society • Risk is a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced by modernization itself. • Risk, mostly generated by science, is endemic to modern societies (eg. nuclear science). • Reflexive scientization as a way forward. ...
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Running Head: SOC 112 QUESTIONS


Soc 112 Questions



What does the idea “social construction of nature” signify? Elaborate.
The idea of the social construction of nature signifies the dominant forms of natures
work throughout society. This includes the processes in how individuals construct specific
spaces that are deemed to be ‘natural’ while some others are based on ‘culture. Social
construction places emphasize on how society interacts with the environment. Nature’s work
is a process in which humans become socially constructed and highlights how humans act
towards their environment. There is a significance in how individuals understand the n ature of
society and how society is constructed around them.
How, according to the treadmill of production theory, does capitalism affect the
environment? Present examples.
According to the ‘treadmill of production theory,’ the capitalist economic system is
continuously producing new things while convincing individuals that we need these new
things being created. If one becomes distant from this ‘treadmill,’ he or she could be
considered an outsider from the perspective of society. The idea of this theory is to
acknowledge that humans are dependent upon individual flows of energy that comes
naturally. With each interaction, there is a constant state revolving around us. The strength
and matter of societ...

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