Social Constructionism in Environmental Sociology: Useful or Not

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Throughout the world there are many diverse cultures and nations which result in many societies that differ. They differ by means of their beliefs, their perceptions and the values they put on general objects and matters evident around the world. They construct their realities by how they perceive things, and once a perception gains traction within the majority of a society it gets internalized by them. Thus resulting in future generations inheriting the same perception by means of socialization. This construction of perceptions and meanings are what this essay is about. It is called social construction. The essay focuses more explicitly on the social construction of environmental problems and issues. It does this by looking at examples of how and why certain societies can come to consider certain natural phenomena as environmental threats or issues, and asks the question of whether their perceptions are right or not. It focuses the concept of social constructionism and determines the relevance of it in environmental issues. It does this by looking at past findings of attempts at deconstructing the perceptions some societies have on their own identified environmental problems to be able to see if it helped with solutions to the problems. And lastly, it identifies criticism levelled against social constructionism in environmental sociology. All to support the following hypothesis: It is important to take the social construction aspect into consideration when looking at certain environmental problems to be able to identify hidden agendas when it comes to solving the perceived problems. But first, a brief definition of the social construction of environmental issues is necessary (As there are many- and some contradictory). It will serve as a foundation for building an understanding of what is going to be discussed. When something is socially constructed it then begs the question of whether the threat or issue is in fact a real threat or issue because according to Haralambos and Holborn a social construct is a "product of social definitions, not natural, biological categories" (2008: 752). Now according to Marsh, Keating, Punch and Harden (2009) 'the environment' as a concept, is always "contested and changing" and he says that "it means different things to different populations at different times". What the social construction of environmental issues and problems then means is that people in different populations perceivee an issue on the environment differently from one another. An environmental issue for one society may not be one for another society. It is because they constructed their realities independent from each other. The independent development of perceptions allowed several dominant social constructs about the environment to emerge as separate independent realities. These realities were shaped and formed by power players in each society. The power players that shape a society's opinion in contemporary life, and therefore its perspective on things are among others "the media, activists, [and] scientists" (Marsh et al, 2009). The following examples will illustrate how environmental issues may come to be constructed and considered important in one society, but not in another. When the media of a particular population informs its members about the poor condition of their local water, the water may have been of poor quality even before the media announced it, but since the announcement was made it has been added to the member's environmental reality. In effect of the announcement the people may start buying bottled water, local government would start addressing the 'issue', they could create jobs to fight the 'issue', and certain entriprineurs may see potential for business. All of which that would not have happened if the media did not bring the knowledge of it into the society's reality. In another society, the media may be focusing on how behind they are economically rather than writing about water quality. Even...
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