Course syllabus

What social forces shape our perception of nature? How? And to whose benefit?

What are significant environmental issues we will be facing in the coming decades?

How can sociology help us better understand the source of and solutions to those problems?

What steps can we take to build a just, sustainable and resilient Auckland, Aotearoa and Oceania?

Welcome to “Environmental Sociology.” It is my pleasure to be your instructor for this course. The above questions are just some of the many we will explore over the course of the semester, and I look forward to working through all the thought-provoking readings and videos with all of you.

This course provides an introduction into the complex social processes that define, create and even threaten our natural environment. As well, it gives tools with which to think critically about environmental issues, such as understanding how environmental issues come to be seen as environmental problems and how political, cultural and economic factors have shaped our interaction with the natural environment.

Beyond analyzing the source of the problems, it's important to me that this course provides resources that will empower you improve your world. Towards that end, we will discuss steps others have successfully taken to deal with environmental issues, as well as steps that can be taken to build a just, sustainable and resilient Auckland, Aotearoa and Oceania.

You will find I have a student-centered pedagogical approach, meaning I'm committed to helping you discover and nurture your intellectual interests. So, please give some thought to the issues and questions you're interested in exploring over the course of the semester, and then let me know about them...

You will find this course relies heavily on communication, and below you'll find additional information about environmental sociology and the course learning objectives. Next month I will upload more information about the course, including assessment information... In the meantime, however, I want to give you a small taste for the course by providing links to two fascinating videos... The first focuses on the pivotal role that wolves and other predators play in eco-systems and the second about the incredible ecological restoration that a single human, let alone a whole community, can accomplish... it's inspiring stuff...








3 hours of lectures

(Timetable and room details can be viewed on Student Services Online)



Environmental sociology is a subdiscipline in the field of sociology and gives us insight into the complex social processes that define, create and even threaten our natural environment. This course provides a sociological perspective on environmental issues, investigating the relationships between various environmental and social problems and considering how political, cultural and economic factors have come to shape our interactions with the natural environment.

We will begin the course with an overview of environmental sociology, which will include a discussion about what it can contribute to understanding and resolving our environmental problems. Then we will examine a number of salient environmental problems and will analyse the major proximate causes of those problems. We will then turn our attention to structural causes of environmental destruction (i.e., political-economy and culture), after which we will spend several weeks envisioning ways of organising our society in a more sustainable fashion. 

A central theme of the course is that the environmental issues we face are also profoundly social issues. We will ask questions such as: What are environmental problems? Who decides what is and is not an environmental problem? What impacts do they have on the environment and on people? What are the social, political and economic causes of environmental degradation? What is the role of institutions in perpetuating and/or preventing environmental problems? What makes the impact of modern societies on the natural environment so much more pronounced than that of earlier societies? Is it population growth? Technology and industrialisation? Modern economic systems? Too much or too little democracy? Does religion or culture make a difference? Does science help, or is it actually part of the problem? What groups are most affected by environmental issues? What are possibilities for change and a movement to a more sustainable future?


  • To think critically about New Zealand society’s relationship to the environment
  • To develop a sociological understanding of our relationship to the environment. Who benefits from that relationship? Who does not? And why?
  • To explore the structural relations of power around environmental issues, and analyse how those structures reproduce power and inequality
  • To deepen our appreciation for the value of sociology and sociological perspectives in examining our world
  • To have you develop your own personal philosophy about environmental problems
  • To have you reflect on your own relationship to these problems, which includes examining how you are affected by them and how you potentially contribute to them. As well, it includes reflecting on how the knowledge can alter your place in the equation. Insofar as we are members of a university community, consumers, participants in religious and community groups, citizens and (in the future) workers and/or administrative decision makers, what are the implications of what we have studied for the lives we are to lead?
  • To have you develop the skills to be able to follow and participate in contemporary debates about environmental issues
  • To improve critical reading and critical writing skills (I will offer learning strategies during the semester)


Course summary:

Date Details