The American Sociologist

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 58–79 | Cite as

Sociology, energy and interdisciplinary environmental science

  • Loren Lutzenhiser
Natural Resources And The Environment And Sociology


The movement toward interdisciplinary studies of human-environment interactions holds considerable appeal for environmental sociologists. But a survey of the paradigms and institutions that govern interdisciplinary research onenergy—a key variable in socioecological theory and an important cause of environmental decline—suggests that the prospects for a significant sociological role in these sorts of studies could turn out to be fairly limited. Over the past twenty years, a variety of devices have been successfully used in interdisciplinary energy analysis to diminish the importance of the social, and to marginalize the contributions of the social sciences. This is unfortunate because insights from sociological studies of the energy system are of considerable value in both disciplinary theory-building and interdisciplinary environmental policy-making.

These external limits on sociological analysis are only part of the story. Sociology’s own theoretical unease with technology and the physical/natural world, and its insular tendencies in regard to other disciplines, have significantly contributed to a decline of sociological work on energy-environment topics over the past decade. Given growing interest by natural scientists in the human dimensions of global environmental change, the time now seems right for a renewal of energy research by sociologists—although the initiative must come from within the discipline. A number of suggestions are offered for anchoring the sociology of human-environment interactions more firmly in the discipline, as well as for expanding sociology’s role in interdisciplinary environment research.


Energy System Global Environmental Change Human Dimension Sociological Study Radioactive Waste 
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

  • Loren Lutzenhiser
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyWashington State UniversityPullman

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