The American Sociologist

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 5–30 | Cite as

Struggling with human exemptionalism: The rise, decline and revitalization of environmental sociology

  • Riley E. Dunlap
  • William R. Catton
Natural Resources And The Environment And Sociology


The emergence of environmental sociology in the 1970s, the decline of interest it experienced in the the early 1980s, and its revitalization since the late 1980s are described and linked to trends in societal interest in environmental problems. We suggest that the status of the field has been heavily dependent upon societal attention to environmental problems, in part due to the larger discipline’s ingrained assumption that the welfare of modern societies is no longer linked to the physical environment. We also suggest that growing recognition of the reality of global environmental change (GEC) poses a fundamental challenge to this “human exemptionalism paradigm,” and thus offers an opportunity for strengthening sociological interest in the environment. Understanding the causes and consequences of GEC calls for examination of societal-environmental interactions, the fundamental subject matter of environmental sociology. Unfortunately, early sociological work has largely ignored such interactions in favor of analyses of the “social construction” of GEC, Consequently, limitations of a social constructivist approach to GEC (and to environmental problems in general) are discussed, and a more inclusive research agenda is recommended.


Ozone Depletion Global Environmental Change Human Dimension Societal Interest Late Eighty 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Riley E. Dunlap
    • 1
  • William R. Catton
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of SociologyWashington State UniversityPullman

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