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Environmental Organizations and Policy

What is environmental sociology?
The study of the society-environment relationship includes people’s beliefs and attitudes toward environmental issues and their household behavior, the politics and policies associated with environmental issues, environmental social movements, standards and goals for the greening of the private sector and labeling of consumer products (such as organic food), and issues of justice and inequality associated with environmental change.

Vanderbilt is internationally recognized for its strong faculty clusters in environmental studies, including the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment and the Climate Change Research Network. The sociology department has several faculty who teach in environmental sociology, and Prof. David Hess also directs the minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies.

What careers are possible in this area?
Students with a major in environmental sociology can go into many fields. Some plan to work in the government or nonprofit area on environmental policy, some want to practice environmental law, and some go into the private sector to work in green-energy companies and in the environmental management divisions of large companies. If you plan to work in the business or nonprofit sector, one option is to add the minor in Managerial Studies with a focus on Leadership and Organizations. If you are planning on taking a few years off after college and entering the workforce directly upon graduation, you might also considering adding some technical skills such as additional courses in statistics, journalistic writing, or geographical information systems.

What is special about the major in sociology?
The sociology degree has a very strong sequence of four courses on theory and research methods that are the foundation for the major. The sequence provides you with the basis for reading scientific research and also conducting research. Some of our students have gone on to jobs in think tanks and other nonprofit organizations, where these skills are very important.

A degree in sociology provides several skills that can be the basis of a successful career in many fields:

  • Sociologists are trained to weigh controversies and develop complex analyses of social and organizational problems, a skill that is important in many careers, especially those that involve leadership positions.
  • Sociologists understand how to review a social science literature on a problem, assess the direction of the literature, and provide thoughtful and well-written summaries and analyses. The capacity to digest, analyze, and synthesize a diverse set of sources is valuable in a wide range of careers.
  • Sociologists are trained to translate research into policy analysis and develop policy based on research.
  • Sociologists are trained in hypothesis generation and testing, data analysis, and both qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Sociologists have a broad understanding of our rapidly changing world and are well-equipped to adapt to new career circumstances and to help organizations adapt to changing economic, political, and social environments.

Environmental sociology at Vanderbilt
The sociology department offers several courses in environmental sociology and courses that cover environmental topics:

  • Soc 3311. Climate Change and Society. How are societies responding to climate change? What social factors affect whether or not governments have strong policies to reduce greenhouse gases? How are businesses and governments developing adaptation plans? Taught by Professor David Hess.
  • Soc 3312. Environment and Development. What are the implications for the world’s environment as more and more people drive cars, use electricity, and enter into the “developed” world? How can development occur in a way that is both just and sustainable? Taught by Professor Joe Bandy.
  • Soc 3313. The Sociology of Health and Environmental Science. This course introduces students to strategies for interpreting scientific controversies and cutting through scientific debates. Taught by Professor David Hess.
  • Soc 3314. Environmental Inequality and Justice. How are environmental exposures distributed across lines of race and class? Why has the environmental justice movement become the most vibrant side of the entire environmental movement in the U.S.? Taught by Professor Joe Bandy.
  • Soc 3321. Population and Society. Understanding the basics of population is essential for having a broad grasp of environmental issues. Not only is the world’s population continuing to grow, but climate change is beginning to have important effects on migration and immigration patterns. Taught by Professor Mariano Sana and/or by Professor Katharine M. Donato.
  • Soc 3604. American Social Movements. How do people organize at a grassroots level to bring about change? What makes movements successful, and what are reasons for failure? This course covers a wide range of topics on social movements, and it includes a section on environmental movements in the U.S. Taught by Professor Holly McCammon.
  • Soc 3613. Law and Society. How does the legal system both contribute to social inequality and help to overcome such inequalities? How does the legal system operate in practice? Courts, lawyers, and the police. This course includes a section on environmental law. Prof. Holly McCammon.
  • ENVS 4101. Seminar in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. This seminar is for minors in Environmental and Sustainability studies but is also open to majors in sociology, and it counts in the sociology curriculum. It provides a broad overview of the field and also gives you an opportunity to write a research paper on a topic that interests you. The research paper can be used in your applications for graduate schools and jobs. Taught by Professor David Hess.

Combining majors and minors
There are many opportunities to create a bundle of majors and minors that work for you. Some students opt to combine a major in sociology with an environmental focus and a major in earth and environmental sciences or civil and environmental engineering. You can also choose one major and one or more minors, such as the minor in sociology with an environmental focus or the minor in Environmental Science. There is also a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies that has a focus on humanities and social sciences courses.

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