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What reasons do Dunlap and Catton give for the neglect of the physical environment in mainstream sociology?

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Introduction

What reasons do Dunlap and Catton give for the neglect of the physical environment in mainstream sociology? There is a problem with the way humans interact and view their environment. This problem causes mankind to neglect, abuse and manipulate their surroundings with little or no regard for the consequences. Obviously, this causes many ills to all inhabitants of the forgotten earth, including humankind themselves. The latter is invariably recognized today by the public and through out academia, however as Dunlap and Catton highlight this was not the always the case and it is only a recent development. They highlight the fact that this strange behaviour seems to stem form the fact that human beings forgot along time ago that they are themselves part of nature. The concepts of enlightenment theory and conquest of nature are everyday reminders of this oversight. This essay will explore the reasons presented by Dunlap and Catton in the 1970's for why sociology has traditionally remained inept in accounting for rising environmental problems. It will focus on the effects of prevailing opinions about the environment, namely that of the dominant western worldview ands its implications on sociology which emerged as a discipline around the same time. It will further highlight the basic assumptions of the human exceptionalist paradigm (HEP) in sociology, which for Dunlap and Catton have served to procure the neglect of the physical environment in mainstream sociology. ...read more.

Middle

Once more many differences are socially induced rather that inborn, consequently they can be socially altered and convenient differences can be eliminated, thus there are no limits to progress. Further assumptions hold that social organization and technology will maintain a population within the carrying capacity of its environment, thus ensuring successful adaptation (Dunlap and Catton 1978, p43). Dunlap and Catton highlight how such a neglect of the physical environment permits sociologists such as Amos Hawley (1975, p8-9) to write that 'there are no known limits to the improvement of technology' and 'the population pressure on non-ecological resources is neither currently being felt or likely to be felt in the early future' (Hawley cited in 'The American Sociologist' vol. 13). The assumptions of the HEP are inherently problematic for Dunalp and Catton, and they cite David Potter's alert to his colleagues which they believe has equal relevance for sociology: 'The factor of abundance, which we first discovered as an environmental condition and which we converted by technological change into a cultural as well as a physical force, has (...) influenced all aspects of American life in a fundamental way' (Potter 1954, p141 cited in 'American Sociologist'): this is because it means that sociology basically ignores the concept of 'carrying concept', it also neglects the idea of the interrelation of living organisms within an ecosystem. ...read more.

Conclusion

For Dunlap and Catton these views influenced Sociology to the extent that within Sociology itself a Human Exceptionalist paradigm was formed and became the dominant view, which signaled the true neglect of the physical environment. Dunlap and Catton argued that this neglect was further reinforced by Sociology's need to establish its self as an independent field of study, especially with regard to its founding fathers, notably Durkheim's 'social facts'. Dunlap and Catton end, by calling for greater sociological attention to the environment, in line with rising public attention to environmental issues such as pollution, and advocate their own paradigm - NEP which is a critique of the HEP but also suggests that human beings should regard themselves as part of the eco-system and that human affairs are not simply affected by social and cultural factors but also by natural factors as well. They advocate growing awareness to environmental problems and a realist approach whereby sociology can make a contribution in terms of understanding these problems, through focus on interactions between society and nature and less adherence to HEP myths. Indeed there are further examples of realist approaches within Sociology such as Newby, Martell and Dickens support Dunlap and Catton's NEP and its implications for sociology. However there is still a long way for Sociology and indeed all other sciences to go before human beings understand the true implications of their actions upon the physical environment and its lasting effects for future generations! ...read more.

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