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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: August 2012

8 - Traditional sociological approaches to human–environment interactions

from IV - Contributions of sociology


Chapter overview

Society is a highly aggregated human system. It is considered an autonomous social system which organizes subsystems of the human population. As we will see, the material–biophysical environment has not been widely treated in sociological theories.

After discussing the role that the material–biophysicial environment played in the theories of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, we show how the Chicago School for Sociology, often called simply “the Chicago School,” utilized concepts from biology in their sociological theories in the early twentieth century. This led to the foundation of human ecology, an academic discipline which led later to the formation of environmental sociology. The chapter concludes with the ecological–evolutionary theory from Lenski. We present an extended framework, namely the resource-based socio-technological evolutionary theory (ReSTET). This approach suggests that societal development is based on the interaction of sociocultural, natural resource-based (i.e. material, biophysical) and technological trajectories, and that the direction of societal development is driven by two objectives (i.e. wealth and power). The significance of each driver depends on the degree of democracy present in a society.