What is environmental sociology

The Environmental sociology is a field of sociology. The object of consideration is the relationship between society and the environment and, in particular, social interventions in nature and how the consequences of these interventions in society are perceived and communicated. It is a so-called hyphenated sociology, which means at universities, despite its general approach, mostly a “special sociology”.


Environmental sociology therefore pays particular attention to the relationship between nature and society. Two theoretical directions can be decided:

  1. Dualism of nature and society - nature is the environment of society, and this develops largely endogenously, i.e. independent of nature (many theories of modernization)
  2. Society is dependent on nature and nature cannot be separated from society. Society is not only dependent on pre- and post-production processes of nature (ecological modernization, model of sustainable development), but creates and changes social relationships with nature and nature.

Theoretical approaches

The following theoretical and practical strands of environmental sociology can be distinguished:

  1. Modernization theoretical approaches - compare Ulrich Becks Risk society (The globalization of risks binds society and nature together and eliminates inequalities) and the Ecological modernization based on Joseph Huber, Martin Jänicke, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and others, which aims to increase environmental productivity by increasing efficiency as well as new technologies and changed everyday practices.
  2. Systems-theoretical approaches - this includes the theory of social systems by Niklas Luhmann (especially his work Ecological communicationaccording to which nature as the environment "disturbs" social systems; what is important here is v. a. the term "resonance", d. H. the degree to which social systems can deal with irritation caused by the environment according to system requirements, without it being possible to predict whether too much or too little resonance will arise).
  3. Theory of the rational decision - this is primarily about incentive structures for environmentally responsible or environmentally friendly behavior, among others. about rules for solving a commons dilemma.
  4. Interdisciplinary approaches that break with the modern dualism of nature and culture and develop “relational” or “hybrid” concepts of society. Arne Naess, Michel Serres and Donna Haraway can be seen as pioneers; More systematic elaborations can be found for the theory of action in Zierhofer and in particular in the works of Bruno Latour and the actor-network theory.
  5. An approach based on gender studies, albeit interdisciplinary: Issues of this approach deal with gender relations and sustainability, they emphasize the various effects of environmental degradation on the living conditions of the sexes. Gender hierarchies, social struggles of environmental movements in the context of gender disadvantage, positioning and demarcation from a western one World women's solidarity, the demands of international women's networks and, in general, ideas for a "Gender equitable restructuring of global economic and global ecological concerns" play a role.[1]
  6. Marxist-oriented approaches that sometimes argue with recourse to historical materialism and take into account the social and economic structures of a society in their analyzes. The capitalist mode of production also receives greater attention.

Practical approaches

Environmental sociology is primarily concerned with the following areas of application:

  1. Environmental attitudes: What values ​​are attitudes towards the environment and nature based on and in which contexts and how do these attitudes become behavior-relevant?
  2. Environmental behavior: How and from which attitudes do people behave in an environmentally responsible / environmentally friendly manner? The term “long way from head to hand” is used here, ie the phenomenon that a high level of environmental awareness does not lead to consistently environmentally friendly action.
  3. Observation of social discourses: How does society change under the influence of environmental and nature discourses (e.g. through social movements such as the ecological movement of the 1970s and 1980s or through the model of sustainable development)?
  4. Sociology of risk: How do people perceive environmental risks and how do they react to them and how are risks communicated differently internationally (e.g. forest dieback, which was assessed and communicated as a high risk in Germany and as low in France)?

See also



  • Diekmann / Preisendörfer. (2001) Environmental Sociology: An Introduction. Reinbek: Rowohlt.
  • Dunlap, Riley E .; Buttel, Frederick H .; Dickens, Peter and August Gijswit, eds. (2002). Sociological Theory and the Environment. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Goldblatt, David. (1996). Social Theory and the Environment. Oxford: Polity Press.
  • Görg, Christoph. (1999). Social relations to nature. Münster: Westphalian steamboat.
  • Groß, Matthias and Harald Heinrichs, eds. (2010): Environmental Sociology: European Perspectives and Interdisciplinary Challenges. Dordrecht: Springer
  • Groß, Matthias (Ed.): Handbuch Umweltsoziologie, Wiesbaden 2011
  • Huber, Joseph. (2011). General environmental sociology (2nd completely revised edition). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.
  • Mol, Arthur P.J. (2001). Globalization and Environmental Reform. The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Yearley, Steven. (2009 [2005]). Cultures of Environmentalism: Empirical Studies in Environmental Sociology. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.


  • Hillmann, Karl-Heinz ([1981], ²1986), Environmental crisis and change in values, [1981], Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg
  • Latour, Bruno (2001), The Parliament of Things. For a political ecology, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main
  • Luhmann, Niklas (2004 [1986]), Ecological communication, VS publishing house for social sciences, Wiesbaden


  • Great, Matthias, The nature of society. A history of environmental sociology, Juventa Verlag, Weinheim 2001
  • Mitchell, Ross E. (Eds.), Thorstein Veblen's Contribution to Environmental Sociology. Essays in the Political Ecology of Wasteful Industrialism, Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY 2007

Practical use

  • Eisner, Mauel / Graf, Nicole / Moser, Peter, Risk discourses. The dynamics of public debates on environmental and risk problems in Switzerland, Seismo, 2003
  • Hampel / Renn, Genetic engineering in public, Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2001
  • Hillmann, Karl-Heinz, Survival society. From the end-time danger to securing the future. An overview study on the environmental crisis, Carolus Verlag e.K., 1998
  • Zierhofer, Wolfgang, Environmental research and the public. The forest dieback and the communicative achievements of science and the mass media, Westdeutscher Verlag, Wiesbaden 1998

Interdisciplinary approaches, important impulses

  • Becker, Egon / Jahn, Thomas (eds.), Social ecology. Fundamentals of a science of the social relations of nature, Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-593-37993-7
  • Böhme, Gernot, Of course nature. About nature in the age of its technical reproducibility, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1992
  • Hillmann, Karl-Heinz ([1981], ²1986), Environmental crisis and change in values, [1981], Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg
  • Latour, Bruno (2001), The Parliament of Things. For a political ecology, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main
  • Luhmann, Niklas (2004 [1986]), Ecological communication, VS-Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden
  • Dingler, Johannes, Postmodern and sustainability. A discourse theoretical analysis of the social constructions of sustainable development, Ökom Verlag, 2003
  • Forsyth, Tim, Critical Political Ecology. The Politics of Environmental Science, Routledge, 2003
  • Haraway, Donna J., Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature, Free Association Books, 1991
  • Holzinger, Markus, nature as a social actor. Realism and Constructivism in Science and Social Theory, Opladen, 2004
  • Serres, Michel, The contract of nature, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991
  • Yearley, Steven, Sociology, Environmentalism, Globalization, Sage, 1996

Current discussion of newer approaches, secondary literature

  • Voss, Martin / Peuker, Birgit (2006) Is nature disappearing? The actor-network theory in the environmental-sociological discussion. Transcript. Introduction.

Web links

supporting documents

  1. ↑ See, Sabine Hofmeister and Christine Katz: Nature relations, gender relations, sustainability, pp. 365–398, in: Groß, Matthias (ed.): Handbuch Umweltsoziologie, Wiesbaden 2011