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Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences

Environmental Sociology at Boston College

Sociology Department

Environmental degradation is a central concern in today’s world. Pressing concerns such as climate change, unsustainable patterns of consumption, and the proliferation of toxic chemicals must be approached as more than scientific and individual challenges; they must also be seen as social problems. Studying environmental issues from a sociological perspective means exploring the social dynamics that shape our interactions with the natural world, whether in terms of uncovering the driving forces behind environmental crises, dealing with the impacts of such crises, or in imagining and carrying out solutions. For example, climate change is one of the paramount social justice challenges of our time for a variety of reasons, including the disproportionate impact of climate change on the world’s poor.

In recognition of the growing importance of, and interest in, these issues, the Sociology Department has been building its capacity in environmental sociology. Among the social science departments at BC, Sociology has the largest core of faculty working in this area. We offer undergraduate students of any major the opportunity to take a variety of courses in the field of environmental sociology. The environmental sociology offerings are designed to introduce students to the field of environmental sociology through core courses, and then to give students the opportunity to build on this foundational knowledge through more in-depth study in connected upper level courses, and also through independent Readings and Research courses and thesis papers. Undergraduates working with faculty on environmental sociology honors theses have recently been recipients of University-wide recognition, such as McCarthy prize recipients Connor Fitzmaurice (‘10) and Thomas Laidley (’08). Other recent examples of undergraduate student research in the area of environmental sociology are presented in the column at right.

The department also has a number of graduate students working in diverse sub-specialties, including sustainable agriculture, consumption, environmental health, environmental justice, and global/transnational issues. Their work has been presented at national conferences such as the Eastern Sociological Society, the American Sociological Association, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems. Students have published in academic journals such as Agriculture and Human Values, Population and Environment, and Organization and Environment.

Faculty specialties and course content cover diverse aspects of environmental sociology, with many courses emphasizing how environmental issues are systematically intertwined with politics, culture and economic system. Specific areas of expertise in our department include: international environmental concerns; issues of consumption and sustainability; environmental politics; social movements; environmental justice; and, social theory. Foundational and in-depth knowledge in these areas facilitate the critical insights needed for future leadership in understanding and working to address some of the key social-environmental issues facing the world today. A concentration of courses in environmental sociology is not limited to those majoring in Sociology, students from any field of study are able to take, and could benefit from, these courses.

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Beyond Coursework

Student Research:

Honors Thesis
by Rachel Weed

Cape Cod’s Loss of the American Cranberry: A Sociological Study of the Future of the Cape Cod Cranberry Industry with a Focus on Cultural and Environmental Challenges

Honors Thesis
by Emil Tsao

Reclaiming Patagonia: The Land that Gave Birth to the Brand and the Paradox of Sustainable Capitalism

Honors Thesis by
Jacqueline Geaney

The Attitude-Behavior Disconnect: Identifying Factors that Modify Behavior in BC’s Environmental Movement