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Sociology and Ecology – a New Theoretical Synthesis

P. 84-94.
Bruckmeier Karl.

Sociology has been confronted since several decades with theoretical and methodological challenges to contribute to the analysis of changing forms of interaction of society and nature and environmental problems resulting from that. In the classical way of academic science to react to new research problems, by driving specialization further, a new subdiscipline of environmental sociology was established. Environmental sociology in Western countries developed a research agenda with five themes as described by the American sociologist Fred Buttel: interaction of nature and society, environmental awareness, environmental movements, political economy, technological risks. Today environmental sociology is confronted with the analysis of problems formulated in ecological terminology as global environmental change, including phenomena of anthropogenic climate change, reduction of biodiversity and land use change. It has meanwhile lost its pioneering role to interdisciplinary ecology that drives, e.g. as new social ecology, a rapidly progressing theoretical analysis and reflection of nature-society interaction in late modernity under notions of «social-ecological systems», «societal relations to nature» and «societal metabolism». Even natural-scientific ecology has, under the impression of rapid environmental change for the first time developed a theory of society to analyze the social and environmental changes in the historical epoch called «anthropocene» for which Western industrialization has been the starting phase. An interdisciplinary opening of sociology in theoretical reflection seems required to regain intellectual strength. Some theoretical and methodological questions of this boundary crossing are discussed further, a synthesis of sociological and ecological knowledge and connections with the neighboring fields of environmental economics and environmental anthropology.