Environmental Sociology


Environmental sociology is a subdiscipline in the field of sociology and gives us insight into the complex social processes that define, create and even threaten our natural environment. This course provides a sociological perspective on environmental issues, investigating the relationships between various environmental and social problems and considering how political, cultural and economic factors have come to shape our interactions with the natural environment.

We will begin the course with an overview of environmental sociology, which will include a discussion about what it can contribute to understanding and resolving our environmental problems. Then we will examine a number of salient environmental problems and will analyse the major proximate causes of those problems. We will then turn our attention to structural causes of environmental destruction (i.e., political-economy and culture), after which we will spend several weeks envisioning ways of organising our society in a more sustainable fashion. 

A central theme of the course is that the environmental issues we face are also profoundly social issues. We will ask questions such as: What are environmental problems? Who decides what is and is not an environmental problem? What impacts do they have on the environment and on people? What are the social, political and economic causes of environmental degradation? What is the role of institutions in perpetuating and/or preventing environmental problems? What makes the impact of modern societies on the natural environment so much more pronounced than that of earlier societies? Is it population growth? Technology and industrialisation? Modern economic systems? Too much or too little democracy? Does religion or culture make a difference? Does science help, or is it actually part of the problem? What groups are most affected by environmental issues? What are possibilities for change and a movement to a more sustainable future?

Learning Objectives for the Course

The following are our objectives for this semester:

  • To think critically about New Zealand society’s relationship to the environment
  • To develop a sociological understanding of our relationship to the environment. Who benefits from that relationship? Who does not? And why?
  • To explore the structural relations of power around environmental issues, and analyse how those structures reproduce power and inequality
  • To deepen our appreciation for the value of sociology and sociological perspectives in examining our world
  • To have you develop your own personal philosophy about environmental problems
  • To have you reflect on your own relationship to these problems, which includes examining how you are affected by them and how you potentially contribute to them. As well, it includes reflecting on how the knowledge can alter your place in the equation. Insofar as we are members of a university community, consumers, participants in religious and community groups, citizens and (in the future) workers and/or administrative decision makers, what are the implications of what we have studied for the lives we are to lead?
  • To have you develop the skills to be able to follow and participate in contemporary debates about environmental issues
  • To improve critical reading and critical writing skills (I will offer learning strategies during the semester)


Prescribed Reading

- Michael Carolan. 2017. Society and the Environment: Pragmatic Solutions to Ecological Issues

- A selection of articles

- A selection of documentaries (including The True Cost, and The Corporation)

Availability 2022

Not taught in 2022


Coordinator(s) Dr Manuel Vallee


A course reader will be made available if required.

Michael Carolan. 2017. Society and the Environment: Pragmatic Solutions to Ecological Issues

A selection of articles

A selection of documentaries (including The True Cost, and The Corporation)


Coursework + final exam


SOCIOL 229: 15 points


30 points at Stage I in Sociology or 30 points from ENVSCI 101, 201, GEOG 102, 205, or COMMS 102 and 15 points from ENVSCI 101, SOCIOL 100