Environment and Global Modernity


Edited by: Gert Spaargaren, Arthur P.J. Mol & Frederick H. Buttel

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  • SAGE Studies in International Sociology


    Julia Evetts, University of Nottingham, UK


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    This volume originated out of a conference on ‘Social Theory and the Environment’ organized under the auspices of the International Sociological Association (ISA) by the Research Group on ‘Environment and Society’. It was a so-called ‘regional conference’ organized in between two ISA-world congresses which have been aimed at presenting the whole spectrum of sociological activity throughout the world. This regional conference had a more specific focus, concentrating itself on theoretical or conceptual issues within the field of environmental social sciences.

    There are several reasons for having both a conference and a book which give a certain primacy or priority to theoretical issues within the field of environmental social sciences. We will shortly discuss three reasons for doing so.

    First, the relative lack of a common conceptual ground can be said to be one of the key factors negatively influencing the future development of the environmental social sciences. This lack of common ground is rooted of course in the disciplinary boundaries that exist also within the environmental social sciences. Leaving the economists aside, we still are left with a great variety of disciplines which all have modest or more substantive records in the environmental field: philosophers, political and administrative scientists, sociologists, (social) psychologists and historians. Although these disciplines may in principle or in theory share a methodological foundation, in practice they sometimes seem more eager to stress the differences that come along with the specific sets of societal issues they traditionally address. The fragmentation that results from these processes of distinction and competition among the different environmental social sciences seems to weaken the position of the social sciences vis-à-vis the natural sciences. The natural sciences are known for their still dominant position in the environmental field, both with respect to the research funds and facilities they have access to as well as regarding the definition of the environmental problem they put forward. While the call for a really interdisciplinary approach seems to be nowhere stronger than within the environmental field, we think the social sciences are in some respects not yet ready for the kind of collaboration with the natural sciences that policy makers are asking for. In our view, reflecting on the theoretical and conceptual issues that the environmental social sciences have in common could strengthen their position vis-à-vis the natural sciences and highlight the specific contributions that can and cannot be expected from social scientists when it comes to doing interdisciplinary research in the future.

    Second, theoretical issues are not so well developed within the environmental social sciences because a significant share of the practitioners are simply not interested in the kind of research that is regarded as ‘abstract theoretical’ or ‘highly formal’ in character. In their endeavor to please policy makers with results that are ‘relevant’ in terms of being applicable in the short run as well as fitting smoothly within the existing policy frames, they keep conceptual exercises on a level that makes them easy to understand for non-scientists as well. Although there seems to exist some differences in this respect between the environmental social science tradition in the USA on the one hand and some European countries on the other, the overall conclusion – that the mainstream environmental social research can be said to be predominantly empirical in character – seems to be valid to a considerable degree. Though we consider empirical research as an indispensable ingredient of environmental social sciences, we think that one cannot and should not stick to the most recent tables, figures, and data even when the main objective is to do policy-relevant research. In view of the incredibly high pace of change that characterizes modern policies, one runs the risk of figures being outdated the very moment they are published. Moreover, the definition of policy-relevant research might, against this background of accelerating change, soon become adjusted in the direction of medium- and long-term research which can stand on its own and which is theoretically well informed.

    Third and finally, theoretical research in the environmental social sciences has been frustrated or at least been handicapped by the fact that the founding fathers, the classical thinkers who delineated the field of social sciences so far, paid little attention to environmental problems at all. This is as much true for Marx, Kant and Hegel as it is for Weber, Hobbes, Durkheim, Simmel and Mead. When leading contemporaries argue that the legacy of the classics needs to be rethought and taken away from its 19th century footing, they should have the immediate consent of environmental social scientists too. When this challenge of reinventing and redefining the social science classical tradition is taken up in a serious way, environmental issues inevitably belong to the core themes to be discussed. We hope that this volume will contribute to strengthening the disciplinary identity of environmental sociology as well as to the greening of sociology.

    This book would not exist if Neil Guppy, as editor of the Sage Studies in International Sociology, had not asked us to start this project. The book would not be as attractive as it is without the efforts made by Corry Rothuizen. We also would like to thank the other members of the organizing board, Riley Dunlap and Peter Dickens, and especially Guus Gijswijt from SISWO in the Netherlands because of his decisive role in organizing the Woudschoten conference from which this book resulted.

    Wageningen/Madison, April 1999.
    Arthur P.J.Mol
    Frederick H.Buttel


    BSEBovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease)
    CEECentral and Eastern Europe
    CFCsChloro Fluoro Carbons
    ECEEconomic Commission for Europe
    EMASEnvironmental Management and Audit Scheme
    EUEuropean Union
    FOEIFriends Of the Earth International
    G7Group of Seven (richer countries of the world)
    GATTGeneral Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
    GECGlobal Environmental Change
    GEFGlobal Environmental Facility
    GNP/GDPGross National/Domestic Product
    GPPGreatest Permissible Pollution
    HCRsHigh Consequence Risks
    HEPHuman Exemptionalist Paradigm
    HIIDHarvard Institute of International Development
    IMFInternational Monetary Fund
    IPCCIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
    ISOInternational Standard Organization
    LEIFLithuanian Environmental Investment Fund
    MEMOMEns en Milieu-vriendelijk Ondernemen (Man and environmental friendly enterprises)
    MNEMulti National Enterprises
    NAFTANorth American Free Trade Agreement
    NEPNew Ecological Paradigm
    NEPP(Dutch) National Environmental Policy Plan
    NGONon-Governmental Organization
    NICsNew Industrializing Countries
    NIDLNew International Division of Labor
    NIMBYNot In My BackYard
    OECDOrganization for Economic Cooperation and Development
    PESTOPublic Participation and Environmental Science and Technology Policy Options
    PHAREPologne/Hongrie: Assistance à la Restruction des Economies (EU aid programme for former CEE countries)
    PPPPollution Prevention Pays/Polluter Pays Principle
    PRAProbabilistic Risk Assessment
    RAPRational Actor Paradigm
    SSKSociology of Scientific Knowledge
    TPPTemporarily Permissible Pollution
    TRIToxic Release Inventory
    UNUnited Nations
    UNCEDUnited Nation Commission on Environment and Development
    USAIDUnited States Agency for International Development
    WCEDWorld Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland-commission)
    WHOWorld Health Organization
    WTOWorld Trade Organization
    WWFWorld Wide Fund for Nature

    List of Contributors

    Ingolfur Blühdorn teaches politics and social theory in the Department of European Studies at the University of Bath, UK. He obtained his PhD from the University of Keele. In recent years his research has focused on the relationship between ecological issues and contemporary social theory.

    Frederick H. Buttel is Professor of Rural Sociology and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is currently the President of the Environment and Society Research Committee (RC 24) of the International Sociological Association and Co-Editor of Society and Natural Resources.

    William R. Freudenburg is a Professor of Rural Sociology and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has written well over 100 articles and book chapters on society-environment relationships. His books include Nuclear Power and the Public: are there critical masses? (with Eugene Rosa) and Oil in Troubled Waters: perceptions, politics, and the battle over offshore oil drilling (with Bob Gramling).

    Ernest Garcia is Professor of Environmental Sociology and Social Change at the University of Valencia, Spain. He has carried out research on regional sustainable development, social conflict and the environment, and household consumption and sustainability.

    Pieter Leroy is Professor of Political Sciences of the Environment and chair of the Department of Environmental Policy Sciences at Nijmegen University, the Netherlands. He chairs the four year education program on Social and Political Sciences of the Environment. His research and publications focus on new developments and arrangements in environmental politics and policies.

    Arthur P.J. Mol is an environmental sociologist at Wageningen University. He has published widely in the field of environmental sociology and environmental policy. He is the central coordinator of several major research projects on environmental transformations in Europe and in South-east and East Asia. He is connected to the new Journal for Environmental Policy and Planning and also serves as co-secretary for the ISA Research Group on Environment and Society.

    Professor Michael Redclift is a member of the Department of Geography, King's College, University of London, where he is leader of the Environment research group. Formerly he was Professor of International Environmental Policy at Keele University, and Professor of Environmental Sociology, Wye College, University of London. He was the first Director of the ESRC's Global Environmental Change research programme (1990–1995).

    Leonardas Rinkevicius is Associate Professor in environmental sociology and policy at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania. He is a member of the board of the Environment and Society Research Committee (RC 24) of the International Sociological Association, and he is also in the action planning committee of the International Greening of Industry Network.

    Eugene A. Rosa is Professor and Chair of Sociology and the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy at Washington State University. He has published widely in the fields of environmental sociology, risk, and environmental policy. Among his recent published works is the co-authored Risk, Uncertainty, and Rational Action (Earthscan).

    Gert Spaargaren is an environmental sociologist working at Wageningen University. He has published several articles on ecological modernization theory and environmental sociology. His dissertation is titled ‘The ecological modernization of production and consumption’. He serves as co-secretary for the ISA Research Group on Environment and Society.

    Jan van Tatenhove is lecturer in Political Sciences of the Environment at the Department of Environmental Policy Sciences at Nijmegen University, the Netherlands. His research focuses on the institutionalization of environmental policy and new policy arrangements in environmental politics and physical planning.

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