Notes on the
Methodology and Interviews
Employing the methodology of Max Weber, the famous sociologist and economist, I have grounded my study of the environmental movement on observed “correlations” of events, institutions, attitudes, and values. Weber called these correlations “ideal types. ” An ideal type is not a moral category but rather a conceptual construct that amplifies and accentuates particular characteristics within historical events, institutions, or systems of thought in order to represent them more elegantly. Ideal types put diverse events, institutions, attitudes, and values into their “most consistent and logical forms. ” 1 Social life is not a neat and tidy affair that slides cleanly into our conceptual containers. Hence, achieving consistency and logic in our theories, Weber noted, entails doing a certain amount of “violence to historical reality. ” 2 This interpretive violence is regrettable but necessary if our historical narratives and social analyses are to yield meaningful overviews.
Viewed negatively, ideal types are Procrustean beds that make social reality conform to our categories by lopping off the more unwieldy, and perhaps more interesting, features. Viewed positively, ideal types are the conceptual lenses we require to create focused images of a diffuse reality. They allow us to grasp at meaning and project trends. Without these lenses, the complex interplay of cultural and material forces that produce social history would remain an unintelligible blur.
My brief characterization of the first three waves of environmentalism and my extended account of the fourth wave are submitted as ideal