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Research projects

Conceptual development of environmental sociology

About this project

Project information

Project status

In progress


Magnus Boström

Research subject

Research environments

Conceptual development and reflexivity is important for all disciplines, not the least so for environmental sociology. Traditionally, sociology reduced itself to focus only on ‘the social dimension’ of human life. Given knowledge of growing environmental problems, this perspective has been increasingly seen as obsolete. Since the origin of the sub-discipline environmental sociology, in the 1970s, a central concern has accordingly been how to properly conceptualise and understand society-environment relations. In parallel, other disciplines mainly from the natural sciences focused on the ecology side, with poor theorizing and reductionist understanding of how social aspects cause and are caused by environmental problems (which include issues of power, institutions, poverty, social justice, integration, quality of life, and public understanding of science). There is, accordingly, still an unmet potential in environmental social science in general and environmental sociology specifically to enrich our understanding of environment-society relationships, something which is increasingly urgent in order to better deal with the world’s environmental problems. This project hence focuses on how environmental sociology can 1) facilitate conceptual reflexivity and development, and 2) enrich a larger debate and scholarly understanding of society-environment relations. 

More specifically, this project focuses on scrutinizing some of the most important and/or frequently used concepts informing our understanding of environment-society relations. Concepts such as ‘risk’, ‘the Anthropocene’, ‘sustainability’, ‘reflexivity’, ‘expertise’, ‘social capital’ are not only instruments for describing and analysing phenomena, they work also performatively, changing our fundamental understanding of phenomena and informing decisions and thereby becomes part of the production of reality. Through concepts we imagine (or prevent imagination) of possible futures. Conceptual usages affect the disciplinary self-understanding and shape the kind of research it promotes and undertakes. It is therefore not only important to develop or adapt concepts relevant for studying current environmental challenges, but also to reflect what concepts do with environmental sociology itself, including how environmental sociology manage to communicate with other disciplines and among broader audiences. Thus, the continued societal and scholarly relevance of this field, and indeed the vitality of environmental sociology itself, demands that environmental sociologists subject its conceptual, analytical, and methodological developments to critical scrutiny.

In addition to researchers within the environmental sociology unit at Örebro University, the project includes collaboration with a broad group of environmental sociology scholars nationally and internationally.

More information about publications connected to the project