Community and Ecology: Volume 10


Table of contents

(17 chapters)

Humans live in social communities that are embedded ecologically within overlapping biophysical environments. The increasing burden that humans have on these environments demands extensive attention from people in all walks of life. This book promotes a dialogue between two related groups of scholars – community sociologists and environmental sociologists – that may help us to better understand how humans interact with each other in social communities and with biophysical environments in an ecological community. Ultimately, these insights may promote broader discussions among a wider group of citizens who mobilize for community and ecological sustainability.

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.– Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac (1949/1989, p. 203)

This chapter examines how residents of vulnerable communities frame environmental change. Specifically, this study reveals how residents from Louisiana's coastal communities understand coastal land loss. Respondents convey the meanings they give to land loss through constructing a narrative of place. We use a phenomenological approach that focuses on how stories are told and the subjective interpretations of societal members. We suggest that the slow onset disaster of coastal land loss leaves residents feeling vulnerable, forcing a constant and heightened awareness of place attachment. Prior to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in late summer 2005, residents expressed a sense of separation and alienation from the restoration process. As major restoration plans are considered, residents’ place attachment can shed light on the role the communities can play in policy and restoration projects.

This chapter uses the concept of real-world experiments to describe ecological activity that occurs in the wider human community. The case discussed is an ecological restoration project at Montrose Point, a peninsula in Lake Michigan on the North Side of Chicago. In the restoration of Montrose Point, the scientific importance of ecological science is not juxtaposed with the seemingly irrational ideas of the human community, but the human community becomes a part of scientific work. Like experiments in the laboratory, real-world experiments often bring surprises. However, if ecological restoration is recognized to be inherently uncertain, surprises become opportunities to learn rather than failures. The chapter concludes with a discussion how a real-world experimental strategy can help to handle surprises via alternate phases of corroboration by recursive practice.

Some theories about urban ethnics are synthesized here by looking at “ethnic vernacular landscapes.” Since 1965, the diversity of American cities has drastically changed. It might appear at first glance that the new elements are blending together, but a closer look reveals a complex multicultural mosaic. In the wake of the 21st century, new and old ethnic landscapes co-exist, overlap, and compete with one another, and in the process they define the essence of the new American city. A visual approach can be an important tool in studying this complex and rapidly changing social reality.

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.– Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac (1949/1989, p. 204)

This chapter shows that it is important to avoid descending to either an extreme of naturalizing disasters or sociologizing them. Safety depends on the appropriateness of social constructions for nature's constructions, whether inadvertent or based on sophisticated risk assessment. Worse-case scenarios need to be taken into account even if improbable, because assessments of their probability and timing have serious limitations. This chapter demonstrates that modern technology and organization can increase vulnerability to natural disasters. Antimodern communities avoided disaster in this case by stepping off the treadmill of production and practicing technological triage. The challenge for modern communities is to make an ecologically reflexive triage.

One of the main subjects in the history of sociological thought has been the structure and functions of social systems to control the relationship between individual freedom and collective objectives. Sociologists have witnessed both the growing strength of “iron cages” and the liberation of individuals from many kinds of social bonds. Environmental problems call for new ways to build up accord between individual preferences and collective outcomes. The concept of “sustainable development” has been offered for citizens as a moral claim to cut down their options to choose. This chapter studies the acceptance of this offer in Tampere, Finland.

Studies repeatedly have found social disparities of health at many levels of spatial aggregation. A second body of empirical research, demonstrating relationships between an area's racial and class composition and its environmental conditions, has led to the rise of an environmental justice movement. However, few studies have connected these two sets of findings to ask whether social disparities in health outcomes are due to local environmental disparities. This chapter investigates whether the association between racial and socioeconomic composition and multiple health conditions across New York City zip codes is partly mediated by neighborhood physical, built, and social environments.

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as much.– Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac (1949/1989, p. 204)

The siting of new waste incinerators has often stimulated vigorous opposition. U.S. research concludes that successful campaigns depend upon the discourse and tactics employed by campaigners and the skills and ingenuity of campaigners rather than the static characteristics of local communities. Evidence from recent anti-incinerator campaigns in England suggests otherwise. In England, community characteristics differentiate, but campaigners’ discourse matters less than political opportunities determined by the structure of local political systems, the urgency of local waste authorities’ concerns to find solutions to problems of waste disposal, the sequence of relevant planning decisions, and changes in the national policy context.

We examine how political characteristics of communities explain variation in the mobilization and outcomes of the American environmental movement in 257 large American communities. In the process, we introduce our own typology of the political opportunity structure concept as a basic accounting scheme. We find that non-institutional political factors are more powerful predictors of environmental movement mobilization and outcomes than are institutional political factors. This is an important finding since non-state dimensions of the political opportunity structure are typically understudied in existing research given the overriding emphasis on formal state characteristics. Also, we find that the characteristics of allies have a more significant effect on environmental movement mobilization and outcomes than do the characteristics of opponents.

In the late autumn of 2002 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) broke out in Foshan city in the People's Republic of China, and over the next few months it rapidly spread to every continent and 29 countries. Although plagues may be global events, they are ultimately fought at the local level. In discussing the SARS epidemic, I present two theses. (1) In the wake of a plague, politics tends to shape a community's response in protecting the system, evaluating performances and allocating blame, punishments, and rewards, and restructuring organizations. (2) Because of their potential for demographic and institutional destruction, systemic responses to plague tend to become entwined in politics at all levels – the local, national, and international.

This chapter explores the characteristics of emerging environmental movement organizations in China, and more specifically the role of guanxi – or personal networks – in Chinese environmental activism. While organizational networks of environmental NGOs are still weak in Chinese environmental activism, personal networks of environmental activists are instrumental in building the first sprouts of a green civil society. We explore this via an in-depth case study of relatively successful environmental activism to halt the construction of a number of hydro-electric projects on the Nu River. The case study illustrates that in China, more so than in western countries, informal personal networks, rather than formal organizational networks, play a crucial role in the organization and success of contemporary environmental campaigns. This is partly explained by the immature environmental movement, and partly by the specifics of Chinese social networks.

This book facilitates the existing dialogue between community sociologists and environmental sociologists on the ecological and social significance of place, the challenges of local sustainability, and local environmental politics. Even after many years into this general intellectual discussion, much remains to be clarified, defined, explained, and understood if we are to provide other concerned actors with meaningful social scientific insights. As such, we conclude this chapter by briefly identifying seven fruitful avenues for future research that follow directly from the contributions to this book.

Publication date
Book series
Research in Urban Policy
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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