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Unit information: Environment and Society in 2021/22

Unit name Environment and Society
Unit code SOCI20049
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Downer
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


Nature and the environment have a complex relationship to social thought. On one hand, they provide the 'stage' for social action: shaping our interactions and identities. (The social and cultural life of cites is different from that of villages, for instance.) On the other hand, they are themselves social constructs: we impute meanings to the environment, for instance, and those meanings shape our interactions with it. (It makes a difference whether we construe it primarily as a resource or as a source of risk, for example.)

Such issues have been of longstanding interest to sociologists (although probably not as longstanding as you might guess). In recent years, however, the issue of climate change has propelled them to new prominence as a topic of sociological concern. In its wake, the environment is increasingly being recognized as a socially transformative force: driving everything from global conflicts to significant cultural shifts. At the same time, those engaging with climate change are increasingly recognizing that social thought is vital to understanding the nature of the problem itself. Tackling global warming ultimately means understanding power of institutions; the public perception of science; the dilemmas of globalization; and much, much more.

In this unit we will be start to explore these issues. We will examine the different ways in which western societies have defined their relationship with the natural world, and how this has affected their interactions with each other and with the environment. We will look at how classical and contemporary sociology deals with the issue of the environment. And we will begin unpack the sociological challenges presented by environmental problems such as climate change.


1. to critically examine societal attitudes to issues such as: the natural world; wild and domestic animals; environmental resources; and the cultivation of 'nature', including the human body

2. to articulate the complex interaction between people and nature, and the extent to which modes of social production and consumption are implicated in contemporary environmental crises

3. to outline the various ways in which historical and contemporary social theory has conceptualised 'environment'

4. to explore the development of environmentalism as political ideology.

Intended learning outcomes

  1. critically evaluate societal attitudes and activities in relation to a variety of natural resources
  2. respond critically to a variety of uses of the concept of ‘environment’ in both general and specific contexts
  3. demonstrate an understanding of the extent to which social attitudes to nature and human nature are fundamentally political
  4. demonstrate a critical awareness of a variety of ways in which social theories have conceptualised the concept of environment(s)

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Details

  • 1500 word formative essay(0%). The question will be designed to assess outcomes 1, 2, 3 and 4.
  • 3000 word summative essay (100%). This will assess outcomes 1,2,3, and 4.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

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