Sociological Forum

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 361–392 | Cite as

Beyond the nature/society divide: Learning to think about a mountain

  • William R. Freudenburg
  • Scott Frickel
  • Robert Gramling


Sociological efforts to understand environment-society relationships fall primarily into four conceptual categories. The first three, involving analytical separation, analytical primacy, and balanced dualism, all draw distinctions between biophysical and social aspects of human experience, with subsequent analyses being based on thesea priori distinctions. The fourth or constructivist approach questions this naturalized dichotomy, calling attention instead to mutual contingency or conjoint constitution: What we take to be “physical facts” are likely to be strongly shaped by social construction processes, and at the same time, what we take to be “strictly social” will often have been shaped in part by taken-for-granted realities of the physical world. Technology offers important opportunities for tracing these interconnections, being an embodiment of both the physical and the social. The point is illustrated with a long-term historical analysis of a specific physiographic feature—a mountain—that has undergone little overtphysical change over the centuries, but has undergone repeated changes in its social meanings and uses. Few of the changes would have been possible in the absence of the mountain's physiographic characteristics; similarly, few would have occurred in the absence of changing sociocultural definitions and possibilities. The challenge for sociology is not just to recognize the importance of both the physical and the social factors, and certainly not to argue over the relative importance of the two, but to recognize the extent to which what we take to be “physical” and “social” factors can be conjointly constituted.

Key words

environment-society relationships analytical separation analytical primary balanced dualism constructivism 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • William R. Freudenburg
    • 1
  • Scott Frickel
    • 2
  • Robert Gramling
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Rural SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadison
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadison
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of Southwestern LouisianaLafayette

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