Environmental social science

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Environmental social science is the broad, transdisciplinary study of interrelations between humans and the natural environment. Environmental social scientists work within and between the fields of anthropology, communication studies, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology; and also in the interdisciplinary fields of environmental studies, human ecology and political ecology, social epidemiology, among others.

Anthropology is the scientific study of humans and human behavior and societies in the past and present. Social anthropology studies patterns of behaviour and cultural anthropology studies cultural meaning, including norms and values. Linguistic anthropology studies how language influences social life. Biological or physical anthropology studies the biological development of humans.

Communication studies or communication sciences is an academic discipline that deals with processes of human communication and behavior. There are three types of communication: verbal, involving listening to a person to understand the meaning of a message; written, in which a message is read; and nonverbal communication involving observing a person and inferring meaning. The discipline encompasses a range of topics, from face-to-face conversation to mass media outlets, such as television broadcasting.

Economics Social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services

Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.


Ideologies, fields and concepts

Ideologies, fields and concepts in environmental social science aim to convey environmental issues as intertwined in societal relations, institutions and human activities that continually shape the environment or are themselves shaped by the environment. For example, political ecology is based on the premise that the environment is not "A-political" therefore the way it is managed, who has access to the environment, how environmental resources are distributed are shaped through political structures, power relations, economic institutions and social processes. [1] Paul Robbins, conveys this in his differentiation of "A-political verse political ecologies". According to Robbins political ecology places emphasis on identifying "broader systems rather than blaming proximate and local forces; between viewing ecological systems as power-laden rather than politically inert; and between taking an explicitly normative approach rather than one that claims the objectivity of disinterest". [1] Human environmental relations reverberate through "the system"  (politics, economics, power relations) moving through an entire web of human relations and structures that are intertwined in ecological relations. [2]

Therefore, environmental social scientists stress human – environmental relationships. Another idea that has risen to prominence in environmental social science in light of this, is the idea of "environmental justice" which connects issues in the field of social justice with issues related to the environment. [3] In describing environmental justice, the concepts emphasized by Shoreman-Ouimet and Kopnina include "equity equality, and rights issues in relation to both social and ecological actors". [4] This pans out in debates about environmental vulnerability and the unequal distribution of resources. Here lies the idea, that certain groups are made more vulnerable to "environmental burdens" [3] while others gain more access to "environmental benefits" [3] as defined in terms of environmental resources and services. [3]

In further attempting to understand human - environmental relationships disciplines of environmental social science have begun to explore relationships between humans and non-humans, to understand how both interact with each other within the natural world. Ideas related to exploring human and animal interactions within the natural world, have become prominent in environmental ethics. Shoreman Ouimet and Kopnina define environment ethics as "a sub-discipline of philosophy that deals with the ethical problems surrounding the environment, in some cases providing ethical justification and moral motivation for the cause of environmental protection or for considerations of animal welfare". [3] This has culminated in debates regarding environmental value and moral rights and who within the larger ecosystem should be assigned these rights. [3] Environmental ethics explores the dialectic between human and nature exploring how the human configuration of nature may in turn reshape humans, their relationships and their conditions. Ideas that have emerged from the questions seeking to examine this dialectic include those of "post-domesticity and domesticity". [5] Domesticity refers to societal dynamics produced in societies in which humans have daily contact with animals other than pets in contrast in post-domesticity people are quite distant from the animals they consume in referencing the ideas of Bulliet (2005) Emel and Neo convey that a distance from witnessing the processes that govern animal life including births, deaths while consuming animals as food, impacts people differently than if they were to be interacting continuously with animals. [5] They mention that post- domesticity may produce feelings of guilt however the continued distance between animal life brought by interacting with animals as a commodity may cause people to only distantly relate to them or think of them as packages in a store disassociating them from the life-cycles they embody. [5] Therefore, environmental science has paved the way to multiple concepts, ideas and paradigms that differ among each other but all seek to intertwine issues related to the environment with other fields and issues in the social sciences.

Social epidemiology

Social epidemiologists research how SES (socio-economic status) determines varying access to resources like income and prestige can generate stratification in health and quality of life. [6] Often, their investigations relate to the social determinants of health which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports as the "conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play ... that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes". [7] These epidemiologists must work in conjunction with environmental social scientists to understand the significance of different environments' effects on humans. Such work influences environmental and public health policies to better the living standards for humans globally. The Fifth European Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health agreed to work on improving low-income housing conditions with new urban planning, health equity, and environmental justice policies with a specific focus on preventing children from exposure to significant environmental health risks. [8] Certain environments' affects on humans provides trends that social epidemiologists can investigate to determine if they are related to a divide of social status especially if only a certain part of the population is negatively affected. Epidemiology uses a host-agent-environment triangle framework to understand why humans are falling ill and this three prong approach allows social epidemiologists to explore how the environment is contributing to the decline in health status for a subsection of or the entire population. [9] It promotes the idea that the social, cultural, economic, political and environmental factors are all important factors to be considered, and health impact assessments (HIA) recommended by social epidemiologists working with environment social scientists are effectively making positive changes in the environment. [9] The World Health Organization (WHO) worked with its members to compose the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) protocol in 2001 to ensure health impact assessments would be made with environmental assessments for policies relating to bettering the quality of life especially within low socioeconomic communities all around the world. [10] As the environment can create stressors that are factors (i.e. low quality housing in areas of high pollution) that limit the quality of life of millions of people globally, environmental social scientists work collaboratively with the data social epidemiologists investigate and provide to understand the relationship between health status and environmental issues. [11]

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention government agency

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the leading national public health institute of the United States. The CDC is a United States federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Ministerial Conference is the top decision making body of the World Trade Organization (WTO). There have been eleven ministerial conferences from 1996 to 2017, usually every two years.

Urban planning technical and political process concerned with the use of land and design of the urban environment

Urban planning is a technical and political process concerned with the development and design of land use and the built environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas, such as transportation, communications, and distribution networks. Urban planning deals with physical layout of human settlements. The primary concern is the public welfare, which includes considerations of efficiency, sanitation, protection and use of the environment, as well as effects on social and economic activities. Urban planning is considered an interdisciplinary field that includes social engineering and design sciences. It is closely related to the field of urban design and some urban planners provide designs for streets, parks, buildings and other urban areas. Urban planning is also referred to as urban and regional planning, regional planning, town planning, city planning, rural planning, urban development or some combination in various areas worldwide.

See also

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Political ecology study of political, economic and social factors about environmental issues

Political ecology is the study of the relationships between political, economic and social factors with environmental issues and changes. Political ecology differs from apolitical ecological studies by politicizing environmental issues and phenomena.

Environmental science The integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems.

Environmental science is an interdisciplinary academic field that integrates physical, biological and information sciences to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems. Environmental science emerged from the fields of natural history and medicine during the Enlightenment. Today it provides an integrated, quantitative, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems.

Human ecology Study of the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments

Human ecology is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary study of the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments. The philosophy and study of human ecology has a diffuse history with advancements in ecology, geography, sociology, psychology, anthropology, zoology, epidemiology, public health, and home economics, among others.

Agroecology The study of ecological processes in agriculture

Agroecology is the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems. Bringing ecological principles to bear in agroecosystems can suggest novel management approaches that would not otherwise be considered. The term is often used imprecisely and may refer to "a science, a movement, [or] a practice". Agroecologists study a variety of agroecosystems. The field of agroecology is not associated with any one particular method of farming, whether it be organic, integrated, or conventional, intensive or extensive. However, it has much more in common with organic and integrated farming.

Environmental health public health branch focused on environmental impacts on human health

Environmental health is the branch of public health concerned with all aspects of the natural and built environment affecting human health. Environmental health is focused on the natural and built environments for the benefit of human health. The major subdisciplines of environmental health are: environmental science; environmental and occupational medicine, toxicology and epidemiology.

In the context of an evolving information society, the term information ecology marks a connection between ecological ideas with the dynamics and properties of the increasingly dense, complex and important digital informational environment and has been gaining acceptance in a growing number of disciplines. "Information ecology" often is used as metaphor, viewing the informational space as an ecosystem.

Ecological anthropology is a sub-field of anthropology and is defined as the "study of cultural adaptations to environments". The sub-field is also defined as, "the study of relationships between a population of humans and their biophysical environment". The focus of its research concerns "how cultural beliefs and practices helped human populations adapt to their environments, and how people used elements of their culture to maintain their ecosystems". Ecological anthropology developed from the approach of cultural ecology, and it provided a conceptual framework more suitable for scientific inquiry than the cultural ecology approach. Research pursued under this approach aims to study a wide range of human responses to environmental problems.

Ecocentrism is a term used in ecological political philosophy to denote a nature-centered, as opposed to human-centered, system of values. The justification for ecocentrism usually consists in an ontological belief and subsequent ethical claim. The ontological belief denies that there are any existential divisions between human and non-human nature sufficient to claim that humans are either (a) the sole bearers of intrinsic value or (b) possess greater intrinsic value than non-human nature. Thus the subsequent ethical claim is for an equality of intrinsic value across human and non-human nature, or 'biospherical egalitarianism'.

Ethnoecology is the scientific study of how different groups of people living in different locations understand the ecosystems around them, and their relationships with surrounding environments.

Urban ecosystem

Urban ecosystems are the cities, towns, and urban strips constructed by humans.

Environmental epidemiology branch of epidemiology concerned with determining how environmental exposures impact human health

Environmental epidemiology is a branch of epidemiology concerned with determining how environmental exposures impact human health. This field seeks to understand how various external risk factors may predispose to or protect against disease, illness, injury, developmental abnormalities, or death. These factors may be naturally occurring or may be introduced into environments where people live, work, and play.

David Waltner-Toews Canadian epidemiologist and writer

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Conservation psychology is the scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with a particular focus on how to encourage conservation of the natural world. Rather than a specialty area within psychology itself, it is a growing field for scientists, researchers, and practitioners of all disciplines to come together and better understand the earth and what can be done to preserve it. This network seeks to understand why humans hurt or help the environment and what can be done to change such behavior. The term "conservation psychology" refers to any fields of psychology that have understandable knowledge about the environment and the effects humans have on the natural world. Conservation psychologists use their abilities in "greening" psychology and make society ecologically sustainable. The science of conservation psychology is oriented toward environmental sustainability, which includes concerns like the conservation of resources, conservation of ecosystems, and quality of life issues for humans and other species.

While epidemiology is "the study of the distribution and determinants of states of health in populations", social epidemiology is "that branch of epidemiology concerned with the way that social structures, institutions, and relationships influence health." This research includes "both specific features of, and pathways by which, societal conditions affect health".

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) describes indigenous and other forms of traditional knowledge regarding the sustainability of local resources. As a field of study in anthropology, TEK refers to "a cumulative body of knowledge, belief, and practice, evolving by accumulation of TEK and handed down through generations through traditional songs, stories and beliefs. It is concerned with the relationship of living beings with their traditional groups and with their environment." Such knowledge is commonly used in natural resource management as a substitute for baseline environmental data to measure changes over time in remote regions that have little recorded scientific data.

Deep ecology Ecological and environmental philosophy

Deep ecology is an ecological and environmental philosophy promoting the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus a restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas.

Kate O'Brien is a recognized international expert in the areas of pneumococcal epidemiology, pneumococcal vaccine trials and impact studies, and surveillance for pneumococcal disease. She is also known as an expert in infectious diseases in American Indian populations. She is a pediatric infectious disease physician, epidemiologist, and the director of the Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals Department at the World Health Organization (WHO), a role she took on in January 2019. In this role, she is responsible for leading the overall work and strategy of the Department to advance the vision of reducing the health, social and economic burden of vaccine preventable diseases. The Director works across all levels of WHO in collaboration with partners to deliver country impact.

One Health is "the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally, to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment", as defined by the One Health Initiative Task Force (OHITF).

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to social science:

The term queer ecology refers to a series of practices that reimagine nature, biology, and sexuality in light of queer theory. Queer ecology disrupts heterosexist notions of nature, drawing from a diverse array of disciplines, including science studies, ecofeminism, environmental justice, and queer geography. This perspective breaks apart various “dualisms” that exist within human understanding of nature and culture.



  1. 1 2 Robbins, Paul (2012). Political Ecology: A critical introduction. Wiley Blackbell. pp. 13–14.
  2. Robbins, Paul (2012). Political Ecology: A critical Introduction. Wiley Blackbell. p. 13.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Shoreman-Ouimet, Eleanor and Helen; Kopnina (2016). Culture and Conservation: Beyond Anthropocentrism. London, New York: Routledge. pp. 120–147.
  4. Shoreman-Ouimet, Eleanor and Helen; Kopnina (2016). Culture and Conservation: Beyond Anthropocentrism. London, Newyork: Routledge. p. 146.
  5. 1 2 3 Emel, Jodey & Harvey; Neo (2015). Political Ecology of Meat. London, New York: Routledge. pp. 5–6.
  6. Berkman, Lisa F.; Kawachi, Ichirō; Glymour, M. Maria (2014). Social Epidemiology. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780195377903.
  7. "Social Determinants of Health | CDC". www.cdc.gov. 2017-07-28. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  8. "WHO | Housing and Health". www.who.int. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  9. 1 2 Gulis, Gabriel; Fujino, Yoshihisa (2015-03-05). "Epidemiology, Population Health, and Health Impact Assessment". Journal of Epidemiology. 25 (3): 179–180. doi:10.2188/jea.JE20140212. ISSN   0917-5040. PMC   4340993 . PMID   25716580.
  10. "WHO | WHO activities in HIA". www.who.int. Retrieved 2017-11-20.
  11. Berkman, Lisa F.; Kawachi, Ichirō; Glymour, M. Maria (2014). Social Epidemiology. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780195377903.

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