Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 331–337 | Cite as

A manifesto for theory in environmental studies and sciences

  • James D. ProctorEmail author
  • Susan G. Clark
  • Kimberly K. Smith
  • Richard L. Wallace


Environmental studies and sciences (ESS), an inherently practical field, nonetheless demands greater attention to its theoretical assumptions as a necessary step toward continued intellectual and pedagogical development and real-world relevance. This need for theory arises from the status of ESS as an integrative interdiscipline—one practitioners of ESS celebrate, yet with considerably greater challenges in achieving inclusivity and coherence than other interdisciplinary fields face. Three examples are briefly raised here: the definition of environment in ESS, how environmental actors are conceptualized, and the identity of ESS as a problem-oriented field. These three examples are initial priorities requiring better theorization, with many intellectual resources ESS can draw upon to address them. We close by reminding the reader that theories are ideas that take us places, not just idle speculation, and by advocating “theory across the (ESS) curriculum.” In addition to the three examples we cover, we invite the reader to join us in identifying and evaluating other current theoretical assumptions in ESS, in reframing ESS on more robust theoretical grounds, and in integrating this work into the curriculum.


Theory Interdisciplinarity Environment Actors Problem solving Curriculum 



This paper emerged from a session titled “Theory for our Environmental Future” held at the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences 2012 Annual Meeting in Santa Clara University, June 22. We appreciate feedback on our presentations by session participants, as well as comments on earlier drafts of this paper by anonymous reviewers. We also acknowledge related conversations with many of our colleagues, for whom we appreciate their genuine collegiality and scholarship.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • James D. Proctor
    • 1
    Email author
  • Susan G. Clark
    • 2
  • Kimberly K. Smith
    • 3
  • Richard L. Wallace
    • 4
  1. 1.Environmental Studies ProgramLewis & Clark CollegePortlandUSA
  2. 2.Yale School of Forestry & Environmental StudiesNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Political Science and Environmental StudiesCarleton CollegeNorthfieldUSA
  4. 4.Environmental StudiesUrsinus CollegeCollegevilleUSA

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