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shifts in media coverage of environmental

issues, membership patterns in environmental organizations

and campaigns, and aspects of environmental

lifestyles and consumer preferences. In

these more empirical areas, links have been established

between environmental sociologists and

sociologists of science and technology, as well as

with organizational sociologists and scholars of

social and political movements. In many cases,

particularly in relation to local environmental

conflicts, sociologists have combined an academic

and an activist role in new forms of action, or

action-oriented research.

In both theoretical and empirical terms, the

sociology of the environment has provided fundamental

contributions to what might be called

the reinvention of the sociology of knowledge.

Since the use of knowledge and expertise plays a

central role in almost every significant environmental

conflict, sociological analysis has helped

elucidate some of the main processes involved.

Depending on the terminology, these processes

have been characterized as organizational learning,

reflexive knowledge, citizen science, or cognitive

praxis, to mention only some of the concepts

that have been developed. In this respect, the

sociology of the environment has contributed to

the broader social understanding of knowledge

production, and has, in many specific cases, combined

environmental sociology with the sociology

of science, or scientific knowledge. The way

in which science has come to be used in environmental

policy has been a major focal point of

sociological investigation.

environment environment


The sociology of the environment has also been

central to the opening of sociology as a whole

to interdisciplinary and cross-cultural interactions.

An environmental focus or point of departure

has proved valuable for initiating

collaboration across disciplinary boundaries and

for opening spaces for communication between

the human and the nonhuman sciences. As a

result, there has been a fertilization and “translation”

of theoretical terms and concepts in both

directions, and there has also been a variety of

hybridizations of social scientists and natural

scientists into transdisciplinary environmental


In the future it can be expected that the tension

between environmental sociology as a distinct

subfield within the discipline and as a part of a

broader and less academically defined intellectual

activity will continue. The value of sociological

understanding for the resolution of environmental

conflicts and the solution of environmental

problems is significant, and it is to be hoped that

sociologists will continue to contribute to the

broader pursuit of a sustainable development or

an ecological society. ANDREW JAMISON

environmental movements

– see social movements.

environmental rights

– see rights.


Defined as the study of the patterning and determinants

of the incidence and distribution of disease,

the discipline of epidemiology is concerned

with environmental factors – whether physical,

biological, chemical, psychological, or social –

that affect health, and also considers the course

and outcomes of disease in individuals and in

groups. Where social variables are emphasized –

the distribution of disease by social circumstances

and social class, for instance, rather than more

strictly biological aspects of sex, race, or geographical

environment – the term social epidemiology is

often used.

The formal beginning of the discipline was in

the nineteenth century with the work of the pioneers

of public health. John Snow (1813–55), in his

Report on the Cholera Outbreak in the Parish of St.

James, Westminster (1854), famously demonstrated

the transmission of cholera through contamination

of the London water supply, “cured” by the

removal of the handle of the Broad St. pump. The

epidemiological approach, comparing rates of

disease in subgroups of populations, became increasingly

used in the late nineteenth and early

twentieth century, applied at first mainly to the

investigation and control of communicable


Well-known examples of its nature and successes

include assisting in the eradication of

smallpox in the world by the l970s. A classical

triumph of epidemiology was the conclusive demonstration

by Sir Richard Doll (1912–2005) in 1954

of the association between smoking and lung

cancer. This classical follow-up study of the mortality

of almost 35,000 male British doctors continued

to offer results for over fifty years. In 2004 a

new report in the Lancet celebrated this milestone

in public health by showing that the risks of persistent

cigarette smoking were actually greater

than previously thought, and about one-half to

two-thirds of all persistent smokers would eventually

be killed by the habit. It was also shown,

however, that quitting at any age, even up to the

60s, gains years of life expectancy.

Epidemiology is essentially a statistical discipline,

dealing in rates of disease and mortality,

but has always acknowledged multiple and interactive

causes of ill-health. Behavior and lifestyle

are increasingly held to be important in the causal

analysis of population, and epidemiology studies

their effects, and also how the control and prevention

of problems in both can be more effective.

One of the most recent examples of the contribution

of epidemiology has been to the study of

the HIV/AIDS epidemic, where it has been vital to

trace out the worldwide patterns of spread and

control, rates of transmission, and changing outcomes.

This health crisis has also been responsible

for some coming-together of ethnographic and

qualitative sociological methods of enquiry with

the more statistical science represented by epidemiology,

since unconventional methods were

necessary to gain knowledge (of, for instance,

drug use, prostitution, and intimate sexual behavior)

essential for the modeling of epidemiological

statistics and predictions.

Medical sociology in some respects grew out of

social epidemiology, and still has close links with

it. Some divergence between the disciplines, however,

relates to the fact that epidemiological statistics

are population statistics and so can say

nothing about any individual. How doctors present

this to patients, and how lay people interpret

at a personal level the statistical facts of epidemiology

in the form of rates and probabilities, is a

topic of interest in medical sociology, particularly

in the currently active fields of genetics and risk.

environmental movements epidemiology


Environmental epidemiology, an important

branch of the discipline, faces contemporary challenges

of global change. The study of causal pathways

at societal levels is sometimes called

eco-epidemiology. Globalization is also relevant

in relation to the necessity for global control of

pandemic diseases. MILDRED BLAXTER


The theory of knowledge, epistemology is one

of the core subjects within philosophy. It tries to

answer questions about the nature, sources, scope,

and justification of knowledge. In some languages,

epistemology is often equated with the philosophy

of science. However, in sociology, epistemology has

also often been used in a broader sense. Epistemology

of the social sciences, for instance, deals with

issues of method. What, if any, methodological

guidelines ought to be adopted? What, if any,

are the differences between the social and the

natural sciences? In this respect, two debates are

worth mentioning. First, in the Methodenstreit in

nineteenth-century Germany, positivism and hermeneutics

were opposed to each other. Positivist

authors postulated methodological unity between

the social and the natural sciences; it assumed the

existence of laws or law-like generalizations in the

social realm; and it postulated the possibility of

value-free social science. Hermeneutic authors

argued that the study of historical and social phenomena

aims to understand (not explain) specific

instances (not general laws). They also argued that

sociology and history could never obtain valueneutrality.

Max Weber adopted an intermediate

position in this debate. Second, in the 1950s the

Positivismusstreit opposed the positivist school and

critical theory. Positivist-inclined authors, like

Hans Albert and Karl Popper, tried to establish

the scientific foundations for sociology. For critical

theorists, like Theodor Adorno and Ju¨rgen

Habermas, sociology should be preoccupied with

self-emancipation and critique of society. For

them, value-neutrality is impossible.

In philosophy the traditional notion of epistemology

searches for the universal foundations which

underpin an individual’s knowledge and secure

its validity and neutrality. This notion of epistemology

has come under recent attack. First, influenced

by American pragmatism, Richard Rorty

(1931– ) argues that we should substitute hermeneutics

for epistemology. Whereas epistemology

tries to establish a-temporal foundations for

cognitive claims, hermeneutics is sensitive to the

situated nature of knowledge. For Rorty, recent

developments within analytical philosophy (for instance,

the work of Donald Davidson [1917–2003]

and Willard Quine [1908–2000]) have made epistemology

(as the search for foundations of knowledge)

untenable. Philosophy should aim at

Bildung and self-edification. Second, social epistemology

pays particular attention to the social

aspects of the sources, justification, and diffusion

of knowledge. Social epistemology draws on Science

and Technology Studies. It can be an explanatory

and descriptive endeavor (for instance, how

did a particular theory become widely held?) or a

normative enterprise (for instance, how can we

organize academic institutions more effectively?).

Third, feminist epistemologists emphasize the gendered

nature of knowledge, the extent to which

men and women develop different types of knowledge.

Some forms of feminism challenge the assumption

of neutrality and advocate standpoint

theory. According to standpoint theory, women

are in some respects better placed to obtain knowledge.

This is by virtue of their specific position in

society. Some theorists extend standpoint theory to

refer to superior forms of knowledge linked to any

marginal, subordinated, or oppressed category.



The problem of equality has been a persistent

topic of western philosophy and political theory.

There is considerable debate about equal treatment

of individuals in society as a normative

principle (“people ought to be equal”) and the

claim “all human beings are equal” as a statement

of fact. Before the modernization of society,

human beings were thought to be equal (“in the

eyes of God”) in religious terms, or they were

equal (in nature) under Natural Law. The contradiction

between the normative view and the empirical

condition of inequality produces conditions

for radical social change. Secular theories of

equality are associated with Karl Marx who argued

that human beings were equal before the advent

of private property and the development of class

relations in capitalism. For Marx, socialism would

restore the equality between men through a revolutionary

change of society. In his study of Equality

(1931), R. H. Tawney combined socialism and

Christian theology to develop a normative theory

of society. Tawney was critical of capitalist society

that intensified inequality by stimulating human

greed for commodities. His study of Religion and

the Rise of Capitalism (1926) developed a critique

of individualism as an alternative to Max Weber

epistemology equality


and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

(1905 [trans. 2002]). In the post-war period, social

reconstruction was often pursued through the

Keynesian (see Keynes, John Maynard) welfare

state, and by developing social citizenship many

western governments committed themselves to

social policies that were designed to reduce inequalities.

However, in the 1970s and 1980s many

western governments embraced neo-liberal social

policies, associated with British Prime Minister Margaret

Thatcher (1925– ) and the American President

Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), that emphasized entrepreneurship,

individualism, profit, and self-reliance.

The consequences of these policies, which

involved, for example, cutting personal income

tax, were to increase the efficiency of industry

and the profitability of investment, but they also

increased social inequality, as measured, for instance,

by post-tax income. Some economists such

as Partha Dasgupta in An Inquiry into Well-Being and

Destitution (1993) argue that infant mortality rates,

life expectancy at birth, and literacy rates provide

better measures of resource allocation in society

than measures of income inequality, such as the

gini coefficient. These can be regarded as traditional

measures of inequality, but with globalization

and the revolution in information there are

new aspects to inequality such as the digital divide.

Access to electronic information via the internet is

increasingly important as a measure of equality.

The principal theme in philosophical debate

has been to determine to what extent differences

between human beings can be derived from natural

differences and from social evaluation. For

example, as a matter of fact, men in the United

States are on average taller than men in Japan,

but should this natural difference lead to any

difference in evaluation? Ralph Dahrendorf, in a

famous essay “On the Origins of Social Inequality”

(in P. Laslett and W. G. Runciman (eds.), Philosophy,

Politics and Society 2nd series, 1962), distinguished

four types of inequality. The first concerns natural

differences of kind (such as the color of eyes).

Second, there are natural differences of rank (between

talents or intelligence). Third, there is the

social differentiation of positions (such as the division

of labor); and finally there is social stratification,

involving a rank ordering of individuals

(by prestige and wealth). Sociologists have typically

concerned themselves with this fourth type of

inequality, have sought to avoid normative judgements

about the ontological equality of people as

human beings, and have focused their empirical

research on the various dimensions of inequality

in studies of poverty, income distribution, and

wealth. As a result, equality has not been studied

directly, because it is implicitly treated as the

residue of inequality. The level of equality in society

is implicitly measured by the extent of


There are broadly four types of equality. First,

there are religious arguments in favor of an ontological

equality of human beings, regardless of

their de facto differences. This type of equality

was supported by Natural Law philosophers, but

it is now associated with human rights, because

Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration

of Human Rights announced in 1945 that “All

human beings are born free and equal in dignity

and rights.” Second, there is the liberal notion of

equality of opportunity, which means that access

to important social institutions such as higher

education should be available to all on universalistic

criteria. This principle emphasizes talent over

inheritance and promotes the idea of meritocracy

(see credentialism). The argument is that social

roles should be open to achievement and competition,

not ascription. Sociological research shows,

however, that this form of equality is often

limited as a result of racial discrimination or

gender bias against women.

Equality of opportunity can never fully guarantee

a “level playing field.” For example, successful

parents will tend to pass on their wealth and

cultural capital (see social capital) to their children.

Third, equality of condition involves various

strategies to address limitations in equality of

opportunity. For example, taxation (of personal

income and the inheritance of property) can be

used to reduce inter-generational inequalities.

Affirmative action programs also attempt to

ensure that equality of condition is not compromised

by negative attitudes, for example towards

the employment of mothers, the elderly, or minority

groups. Affirmative action programs are also

relevant to the fourth type of equality, namely

equality of outcome. A university that decided to

offer every student a degree regardless of their

actual performance would have a policy of equality

of outcome. However, to create an egalitarian

society requires considerable state intervention

into society, especially in the market, through

taxation, affirmative action, and legislation. Liberals

and anarchists believe that the state should

not interfere with the right of individuals to

dispose of their own assets. Liberals argue that

the fundamental principle of freedom is the right

to individual property. From the perspective

of functionalism, individuals have to be motivated

to fill positions in society that are dangerous, or

equality equality


demanding, or require extensive training. In the

Davis and Moore debate (see functional theory

of stratification), social inequality in terms of

prestige and wealth is necessary to ensure that

functionally necessary tasks are undertaken.

Although liberal democratic societies typically

embrace the idea, expressed in the Declaration

of Human Rights, that all human beings are equal,

very few governments are willing or able to implement

policies that would radically promote equality

among their citizens. In a parliamentary

democracy, the economic interests of the wealthy

will always prevail over the interests of the

poor. Since the early 1980s, governments adopting

post-Keynesian strategies have cut personal taxation,

reduced expenditure on welfare, and privatized

social services. The consequence has been to

increase inequality. BRYAN S. TURNER


This termhas been, since the mid-1980s, at the heart

of debates about the extent to which the human

condition is formed by the natural characteristics

of gender and race. The politics of essentialism

have revolved around the double-sided possibilities

of essentialism: asserting the importance of a

category such as “woman” allows a politics organized

around that term and yet at the same time

contains female people within a concept which

may be interpreted as naturalistic and potentially

coercive. Similar arguments apply to the use of

racially and ethnically specific terms; in all cases,

the powerful arguments for political organization

and mobilization around certain definable characteristics

– which often underpin considerable similarities

of circumstance and experience – are

contested by those who argue that any form of

“essential” identity is in itself an identity imposed,

and maintained, by those who are more powerful.

For women, essentialism has been contested because

it positions women within a binary opposition

in which they can never be men and in which

all forms of social negotiation have to be conducted

through a “natural” condition. From the

end of the twentieth century, considerable theoretical

energy has been devoted to separating both

masculinity and femininity from male and female;

resistance to this idea remains considerable, particularly

from psychoanalytically informed sociology

which maintains that distinct biologies of

male and female do exist and that the recognition

of this fact (and consideration of its consequences)

does not in itself constitute essentialism.



A systemof social stratification in which rights and

duties were legally defined, estates were based on a

common principle of the hierarchical organization

of social strata in pre-industrial societies, such as

feudalism. The analysis of the survival of estate

systems has been an important aspect of the theory

of revolutions. In Economy and Society, Max Weber

(1922 [trans. 1978]) classified estates as a form of

traditional authority, specifically patrimonial authority

or “estate-type domination.” Estates, which

were typically divided into nobility, clergy, and

commoners, flourished in France, Germany, and

Russia before the rise of capitalism, when new

forms of economic power confronted the traditional

distribution of aristocratic titles and privileges.

Estate domination in Weber’s terms involved

an authoritarian, militarized nobility surrounding

a monarch or emperor. The heyday of the French

system of estates corresponded with the rule of

Louis XIV (1643–1715) and the consolidation of absolutism

in the seventeenth century. Whereas in

France the estate system remained an inflexible

system of privilege, the English social structure

permitted the entry of bourgeois capitalists into

the nobility. Although the traditional authority of

the English nobility was undermined by the English

Civil War and the execution of Charles 1 in

1649, the division between the House of Lords and

the House of Commons in the British parliamentary

system represents the last vestiges of the

“estates of the realm.” The French system of estates

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