Sociology and Nature: Social Action in Context

Sociology and Nature: Social Action in Context

Sociology and Nature: Social Action in Context

Sociology and Nature: Social Action in Context

Synopsis

Sociology as if nature did not matter has been the sociological expression of modern societies negligent of the processes of nature. In response to this "ecological blindness," Raymond Murphy proposes the reconstruction of sociology in which nature matters, developing a novel sociological approach that situates social action in its natural context.

Excerpt

In an insightful but unelaborated comment the German sociologist Ulrich Beck (1995b: 41) contended that "'ecological blindness' is a congenital defect of sociologists." The present book will develop that argument in more detail and try to correct this lack of vision. Pre-ecological sociology constructed as if nature did not matter has been the sociological expression of modern societies careless of nature. The growing awareness that social constructions unleash dynamic processes of nature--processes beyond human control that bear on social action--has the potential of radically transforming such sociology. I will attempt to contribute to the construction of sociology in which nature does matter.

In the sociology of science, for example, the constructivist, relativist trend has fabricated a conception of science without nature. This has obscured the importance of nature in science, has glossed over the manipulation of nature, and therefore has muddled one of the most significant features of the contemporary world. I will argue in favor of transcending such constructivism by incorporating into the analysis the unique learning curve of science, which results in both its utility and its danger, and by explicitly examining the embeddedness of social action in the processes of nature.

Creative human agents risk becoming prisoners of the unintended ecological consequences of their intentional social action. Through the manipulation of nature by applied science, modernization has upset the self-regulating mechanisms established by nature, thereby letting loose new forces of nature that had hitherto been controlled by nature itself. Humanity's very successes in manipulating nature destabilize the natural support system of society on a planetary scale, put it at risk, and thereby destabilize all of society's institutions.

The threatening potential of this reflexive phase of modernization challenges humans to become more ecologically rational. Risks can now only be reduced if social constructions take into account interactions with the dynamic processes of nature, if humans recognize the partial character of human understanding of nature, and if they seek to adapt to the selfregulating mechanisms constructed by nature. The distinctive characteristic of humans is that they can accomplish this by reflective social action. Systemic changes have opened up new possibilities for human agency.

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