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School of Social Sciences

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BAEcon Economics
Learn how the social sciences can help you to understand today's world.

BAEcon Economics

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Sociology of Nature, Environment and Risk

Unit code SOCY20022
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Sociology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course explores the natural world and the environment as sociological concerns. With reference to the accelerating threat of human-induced climate change, it looks at the central but contested place of nature in sociological thought, and examines how contrasting sociological perspectives have tried to explain the complex relationship between society and nature. 


Traditionally nature was present in sociology only by its absence, shaping notions of 'the social' whilst remaining largely invisible, but various recent developments have challenged the 'eco-blindness' of social thought. Taking a broadly historical approach, the course shows how the meaning of nature is not fixed, but on the contrary, a social view of nature involves understanding the ways in which historical-social transformations have led to changing perceptions of nature. At the same time, transformations in the material relationship between human beings and the natural world have impacted back upon social structure and changed it in turn. One influential way of understanding this is in terms of the concept of the 'risk society', which proposes that late modernity has seen human attempts to control nature reach a critical tipping point, where instead of ever increasing security the result is ever increasing manufactured risk and uncertainty, from nuclear power to bio-technology. In the context of such issues, the risk society thesis will be assessed alongside various sociological attempts to fundamentally rethink the relations between human beings and the nonhuman world.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course students will be able to:
- Critically evaluate a range of sociological perspectives on nature and the environment.
- Identify how concepts of society and nature inform each other.
- Explain how historical-social transformations have led to changing perceptions of nature.
- Assess the adequacy of the 'risk society' thesis for addressing current issues around climate change and environmental degradation.
- Identify the role of contrasting ideas of nature in shaping various contemporary controversies.

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly lecture and workshop.

Employability skills

This course develops skills in analytical thinking, critical evaluation of ideas and arguments, synthesis of information from multiple sources, and oral presentation. The course content deals with very topical environmental-social issues which are essential for understanding the contemporary world and increasingly important for many contemporary organisations.

Assessment methods

Assessment of this course is by 2,000 word essay (50%) and 2 hour exam (50%). The course also includes a compulsory non-assessed group presentation.

Feedback methods

All sociology courses include both formative feedback – which lets you know how you’re getting on and what you could do to improve – and summative feedback – which gives you a mark for your assessed work.

Recommended reading

Philip Sutton (2004) The Environment: A Sociological Introduction.
Erica Cudworth (2003) Environment and Society.
Peter Dickens (2004) Society and Nature: Changing Our Environment, Changing Ourselves.
John Barry (1999) Environment and Social Theory.
Alan Irwin (2001) Sociology and the Environment: A Critical Introduction to Society, Nature and Knowledge.
Philip Sutton (2004) Nature, Environment and Society.
Newton, Tim (2007) Nature and Sociology.
Michael M. Bell (2008) An Invitation to Environmental Sociology.
Phil MacNaghten and John Urry (1998) Contested Natures.
Ulrich Beck and Amos Weisz (1995) Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk.
Ulrich Beck (1992) Risk Society.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richie Nimmo Unit coordinator

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