711.6 Integrating ecological perspectives in environmental sociology: Progress and future directions

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 1:45 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Diana STUART , Kellogg Biological Station and Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, MI
Environmental challenges continue to highlight the need to break through traditional disciplinary boundaries to better understand complex relationships between social and ecological systems. Issues such as climate change illustrate that we can no longer ignore the biophysical in our studies of society. However, scholarly work that attempts to breakdown the academic divide between nature and society has remained marginalized within sociology. In their 2000 article in the Annual Review of Sociology, Michael Goldman and Rachel Schurman reviewed work that theoretically engages relationships between nature and society and hoped that from this work a new sociological imagination would emerge. Over a decade later, I explore similar work published since their article was written, identify promising approaches to integrate social and ecological perspectives, and assess sociology’s progress toward bridging the nature/society divide. I argue that while progress has been made, sociology still has much to learn from work in other disciplines. For example, research exploring social-ecological systems emerging from the natural sciences illustrates promising approaches that apply new concepts and frameworks to better understand how to mitigate and respond to environmental change. A growing number of ecologists have published work recognizing that they can no longer ignore the impact of humans in their study systems and are grappling with new challenges in their work. I will examine how sociologists have integrated ecological perspectives into their work and how social and natural scientists may find common ground for future research. As we face increasing environmental challenges, sociologists that can incorporate ecological knowledge into their work and collaborate with natural scientists will be in high demand. Within environmental sociology, we must engage with new concepts to help us understand social-ecological systems and how we might reshape relationships to result in better social and environmental outcomes.