Environment and Society

Syllabus PDF

“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation.”

Albert Einstein

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”

Noam Chomsky

“The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden.”

Pierre Bourdieu

This course examines the relationship between human societies and the natural world. A key component of understanding and addressing environmental problems lies in our ability to look closely at the values we hold as individuals and as a society. In understanding how these values manifest in the environmental problems we now face, we can begin to address the “root of the problem” and work more effectively for long-term change in this area.

Few, if any individuals or societies would claim that they want anything less than a clean, healthy environment for themselves, their children, and future generations. Yet if we look at the current state of air quality, water quality, damage to the ozone layer, the growing scientific evidence for global warming, and our increased use of disposable products and low-mileage vehicles, we have to ask why there is such a ‘disconnect’ between the environmental quality we say we want, and the current state of the environment.

As sociology is a discipline that examines the world from a ‘larger picture’ perspective, understanding the natural environment from a sociological perspective entails looking closely at what we value collectively and individually, and the decisions and policies that result from those values. A sociological perspective on the environment also looks at the reciprocal relationship between humans and their environment – how individuals and societies affect both the natural and built environments, as well as the impacts of these environments on human communities. This interaction is at the heart of the study of environmental sociology.

Social scientists, in general, and sociologists, in particular, believe that effective change in any part of the social world (in this case, addressing environmental problems) cannot happen without an in-depth understanding of the individual and social beliefs, values, and actions that create and shape our relationship with the natural world. Our attitudes toward the land, and plant and animal species, are intimately connected to the health or ill health of our physical environment.

Learning Objectives

In order to explore the reciprocal relationship between humans and their environment, this course has been designed with specific learning objectives to help you develop an in-depth understanding in these areas. Completion of this course will allow you to:

  • Describe basic sociological perspectives, and how these perspectives apply to our relationship with the built and natural environments.

    • Assess the impact of the built and natural environments on human behavior, social organizations, and social movements.

    • Be able to discuss current literature in the field of environmental sociology.

    • Critically examine the relationship of consumption patterns to existing environmental problems.

    • Identify patterns of social organization and their impacts on resource use.

    • Describe the role of technology in environmental problems.

    • Compare and contrast historical patterns of land use and their impacts on low-income and minority populations.

    • Identify key environmental policies guiding both conservation and development.


This class requires you to read, sometimes a lot. You will need to read. You are expected to read! If you don’t like reading, or don’t want to, you shouldn’t take this class. Can I be more clear? You will most likely fail the class if you don’t work on the material I have chosen. You can be a fast reader or a slow one, have a lot of interest and time for the class, or not, but you will need to make the time, develop fast reading strategies, and read the assigned content. Furthermore, while reading, you need to take notes: write down key words and concepts for each paper, the author’s argument, the cornerstone information. Keep brief, simple, and organized notes about what you read. If you read and don’t write anything you are wasting your time. Bring the reading and/or your notes to class so that you can engage with them during lecture. Although laptops are not allowed in class, I will let you look back at readings if you ask.

You also need to take notes during class. Note taking means more than passively copying the content of the slides I project. Slides are often titles meant to organize my lecture. Most often they are not content, they have no intrinsic value and will not help you write a paper or prepare for an exam. Make good use of your time and take notes, when you read, watch a movie or seat in lecture. Otherwise you are throwing time (and money) out of the window.

All instructors require students to come prepared to class, which, here, means read assigned articles and watch assigned movies. When you don’t, rather than a conversation the class turns into a monologue. If you find it boring and wish your instructor involved you more in the class, then come prepared with questions about the readings, with ideas, comments, concerns. Be actor of your education, not passive recipient.

Teaching Delivery

This class will incorporate several teaching methods. Each of these methods is important to the learning process in this course. Some of the more common methods to be used in this class are as follows.

Lectures: Traditional lecture will be used to assure that all students are fully aware of the information the professor wishes the students to grasp.

Guest Lectures: Multiple guest speakers (TBD) are scheduled to join us during the semester. The guest lectures are to be highly regarded. A handout will be distributed that day, to be returned at the beginning of the following class. The handout will be graded.

 Films and Videos: Films and videos will be shown throughout the course to provide visually interpretive examples for several course topics. These screenings are to be treated as lectures for the course and should be taken as serious subject matter.

Class & Group Discussions: Even though the class is fairly large, students are strongly encouraged to participate in discussion of the daily topics by providing their insights and asking questions for clarification or rhetorical contemplation. Discussion will be conducted in small groups and as a whole class.

Teaching Perspective

My goal as your instructor is to produce an environment where we can learn the most, become better informed, question assumptions, and creatively develop ideas and strategies. I want the classroom to be an environment where dialogue can take place in an open and respectful manner. If you have something to ask or add, please do so in a manner for the whole class to hear.

Course Material

Required text

An Invitation to Environmental Sociology. Ed. 5. 2016.  Michael Mayerfeld Bell, Loka L. Ashwood.

Additional readings

All additional readings will be supplied on D2L, under the tab “week…”(refer to syllabus). It is your responsibility to make sure you can access the assigned readings that are on D2L in a timely manner. I may be adding or replacing a few over the semester (I will), so be sure to follow D2L for updates on this.


There are multiple movies to watch during the semester. I will post movies on D2L or post the link to access them online. Movies are to be taken as seriously as the readings and have to be watched before class.

Course Policies

Attendance, Participation, and Reading Assignments

Students are expected to attend every class, participate in group and class discussions, and actively engage in the course lectures. Completion of the assigned readings is absolutely critical to your success in this class and your final grade will greatly depend upon you having read, thought about, and written about the readings. The assigned readings should be completed prior to coming to class. Some classes will be spent going over readings, sometimes in detail, while others will focus on other material. Students are expected to have done the reading before each class.

If you know you are missing an exam due to an athletic engagement, religious observance, court appearance, or family problem on a date that we take a test or have an assignment due please let me know at least three weeks in advance. We will discuss an alternate date. However, regardless of the reason you cannot make up writing responses or class activities that are collected for credit. If you missed a class due to a medical emergency make sure to provide a medical certificate when you come back and I will do all I can to help you catch up with the class.

Classroom Policies

1.Never ask another student in the course a personal question. (It is up to individual students as to whether they choose to discuss their own experiences, identities, and so on in class.)

  1. Never request that another student in the class speak on behalf of a group (e.g., African Americans, Jewish People, Latino/as, Asian Americans, men, women, lesbians/gays, rape survivors, etc.)
  2. Do not use your phones, iPods, tablets, or other electronic gadgets during class (including for text messaging or checking the web for something). If you do so, I will ask you to stop once. Then I will ask you to leave the classroom.
  3. I do not allow laptop use during class. If a student has a reason that s/he believes s/he must use a laptop during class, please talk to me privately about this. To use a laptop every day, I must receive a letter from campus letting me know that you need to use a laptop every day. However, if such a letter is provided and I approve it, using your laptop for anything other than taking notes may result in you not being able to use it anymore.
  4. Kindly refrain from becoming involved in separate conversations or making comments under your breath during lecture and class discussions.
  5. Students are responsible for regularly checking their e-mails from me and D2L announcements.
  6. In all emails to me, make sure that “SOCY 2077” is in the subject line.
  7. Expect to be challenged in this class both in the reading assignments as well as the level of engagement expected from you.
  8. You are expected to come on time and to stay until the end of the allotted period unless you have excused yourself ahead of time. Students coming and going during class time is distracting for the whole class. You do not need to raise your hand to use the restroom.
  9. Become familiar with the Desire2Learn (D2L) website immediately. If there are technical problems, please call ITS at 303-735-4357. (To access D2L, go to https://learn.colorado.edu ; Login with you identikey; Your courses can be accessed from the “My Courses” section on “My Home.”)
  10. You are expected to attend every class. However, attendance will not be taken, but your final grade would be greatly affected if you miss too many classes.
  11. Grades: Grades are awarded on the basis of quality of work turned in and what is subsequently earned; not the grade that a student feels they “deserve.” You are encouraged to see me early on in the semester if you are concerned about your grades. There is no extra credit in this course and I will not curve the grades.

Graded work

There is no final paper to complete for this course. Your final grade will consist of:

  • Writing Responses (10*10 points): These are short (a couple sentences, one paragraph at the most) answers written at the beginning of a class, answering a question about one or all of the readings and/or movies/podcasts assigned for that day.
  • Sociological analysis of a movie (100 points): choose (on the syllabus) a movie you are particularly interested in and write a 3 page essay about it. This can be done at any time of the semester and will be submitted on Dropbox. See the guideline posted on D2L (under “documents”) for more information about how to organize your essay. Even though you could write and turn in your analysis next week, I encourage you to wait a little to become more familiar with the sociological concepts you could use in your analysis. Wait for the end of a sequence to write an essay on the topic to make sure you have a grasp on all the concepts that relate to that topic. Due on Dropbox on Tuesday November 28 by 9:30am.
  • Exams (2*120=240 points): Two exams are scheduled during the semester. The exams consist of two in-class short answers. I will post potential exam questions weekly on D2L for you to prepare for the exam. I will then choose all exam questions from those questions previously posted. The exam will consist of 4-5 questions, which you will choose and answer 3 from. Exam #1 will be on Tuesday October 17 in class. Exam #2 will take place during our final exam slot.
  • Guest-speakers handouts (20 points each): You will turn in a handout after each guest speaker’s presentation. Handouts are to be turned in within a week, on dropbox. See a guest speaker handout guideline in the “documents” folder.
  • Syllabus quiz (10 points): To be completed and returned to me by Tuesday

September 12th.

Comments on Grading

I do not grade on a curve. Your final grade will reflect your success in demonstrating your knowledge of the material. To do well in this class, most of you will need to work hard and apply sustained effort over the course of the semester. That said, working hard does not guarantee an “A”. Your final grade is based on the points you have earned throughout the semester. If you find that you are not doing as well as you would like in the course, please come talk to me as soon as possible. There will be no additional extra-credit at the end of the semester to boost low grades.

If you feel that you have been given an unfair grade on an assignment, you need to write a one page response as to why you would like to appeal the grade and hand it to me no more than one week after you received the grade. When appealing the grade, you need to be aware that the grade can be raised or lowered. Therefore, I only advise you to appeal grades if you feel there is a very clear miscalculation. You are responsible for keeping all materials that have been graded and returned to you. If you cannot provide these materials, your grade cannot be appealed. University policy prohibits discussions of grades over email to protect your privacy. If you want to discuss your grade, please come to office hours or make an appointment with me.

Syllabus Quiz10
Writing Responses100
Guest Speakers Handouts40
Movie/ Analysis100

Although I do not take daily attendance, 150/490 points (32%) are basically attendance points.

This is the basic criteria that will be used in assigning your grade for each assignment received:

Letter GradePercentage of GradeDescription
A90-100Exceeds all required elements of an assignment, and the quality of the work is considerably greater than what was required. The quality of the work is considerably above the class average and impressive to the evaluator.


B80-89Meets all required elements of an assignment, and the quality of the work is better than what is required and demonstrated by the class average.


C70-79Meets all required elements of an assignment, no more, no less. Quality of assignment is satisfactory for college level work.

Fails to meet all required elements of an assignment, and/or the quality of the assignment is less than satisfactory.


D60-69Fails to meet all required elements of an assignment, and/or the quality of the assignment is less than satisfactory.


FLess than 59Only meets some of the required elements of an assignment, and/or the quality of the assignment is considerably lower than satisfactory. 50% of points are not guaranteed. At this level points are only given if some elements of the assignment are met. If not, very low percentages are likely.
Zero0Fails to meet any of the required elements of an assignment, and/or the quality of the assignment is well below basic standards of writing, comprehension, and/or ability to follow instructions; assignment is late or incomplete; assignment is not turned in at all; assignment shows signs of plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty. If the later is the case, I will file a formal accusation through the honor code council.

Course Schedule

 Sequence/Lecture TopicReadings (textbook or D2L)Movies/podcastsWork due/Deadlines
Week 1Introduction   
T 08/29Welcome; Sociological imagination The Danger of a Single Story 
TH 08/31Syllabus

Intro. to environmental sociology

Syllabus; Gardner (95-98); Chap. 1 pp. 1-24 and pp. 33-38; Rich (optional)  
Week 2Social constructionism   
T 09/05Thinking about animalsIrvineRich Roll podcast August 1st 2016: Going beyond Carnism. 
TH 09/07Race, Gender, NatureChap. 9 pp.264-279


Week 3Technology and science   
T 09/12 Chap.4 pp. 107-116

Ecological literacy (skim)

The story of stuffSyllabus Quiz due
TH 09/14 Mander;


Week 4Population and Development   
T 09/19 Chap.5 pp. 131-145Pr. Al Bartlett’s lecture 
TH 09/21 Hardin; LevineMother: Caring for 7 billion 
Week 5Body and Justice   
T 09/26Guest speaker #1: Sarah Dawn Haynes


Outreach and Engagement Coordinator

CU Environmental Center


Chap.6 pp.163-180 Calculate your ecological footprint
TH 09/28Contested illnessesBrown; Hofrichter


Living downstream 
Week 6Environmental Justice   
T 10/03 Chap.6 pp. 180-193


 Guest speaker #1 review due on dropbox before class starts
TH 10/05 Bullard  
Week 7Capitalism, Neoliberalism, and the environment   
T 10/10Neo-Marxist environmental theoriesChap. 3 pp.78-95  
TH 10/12NeoliberalismSpringer  
Week 8    
T 10/17 Exam #1Exam #1Exam #1
TH 10/19Climate ChangeClimate literacy (skim); Wheeler; Norgaard  
Week9Climate Change and Ideology   
T 10/24Climate as ideologyStern; CorderoClimate of doubt


TH 10/26Guest speaker #2

Kieran Coleman, Rocky Mountain Institute

Week 10Agriculture and food   
T 10/31What’s the buzz about bees

The Human Nature of Nature



Rachel Carson on DDT 
TH 11/02AgriculturePAN.; KrebsFood Inc.Guest speaker #2 review due on dropbox before class starts
Week 11Hazards and Disasters   
T 11/07 Rodriguez

Chap. 10 pp. 286-300

TH 11/09 TierneyClimate Refugees


Week 12Living in the ecological society   
T 11/14    
TH 11/16    
Week13Fall Break   
Week14Alternatives to Capitalism and Growth


T 11/28Sustainability and DegrowthLatouche; SOW 2012


TH 11/30  

A Degrowth Critique; Kimeldorf;

Rich Roll Podcast 3 July 2016: Andrew Morgan on the cost of Fast Fashion (listen to what you can, it’s 2h long)Movie analysis due on dropbox before class starts
Week 15Happiness and Voluntary simplicity   
T 12/05Happiness 



TH 12/07Sufficiency and voluntary simplicity


Princen; Elgin  
Week 16    
T 12/12    
TH 12/14    

Readings and movies must be read/watched before class

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