Toward a Sociology of Nature


Direct all correspondence to Colin Jerolmack, Department of Sociology, New York University, 295 Lafayette Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10012; e-mail:


Although we often believe that nature stands apart from social life, our experience of nature is profoundly social. This paper unpacks this paradox in order to (1) explain sociology's neglect of the environment and (2) introduce the articles in this special issue on “the sociology of nature.” I argue that sociology's disinterest in the biophysical world is a legacy of its classical concern with tracing society's “Great Transformation” from gemeinschaft to gesellschaft: while early anthropologists studied “primitive” societies that allegedly had not yet completed “the passage from nature to culture” (Lévi-Strauss 1963: 99), pioneering sociologists presumed that industrialization and urbanization liberated “modern” society from nature and therefore focused their attention on “urbanism as a way of life” (Wirth 1938). As exemplified by the articles in this symposium, environmental sociology critiques the nature-culture and town-country dualisms. One of environmental sociology's core contributions has been demonstrating that nature is just as much a social construction as race or gender; however, its more profound challenge to the discipline lies in its refutation of the sociological axiom that social facts can be explained purely through reference to other social facts. “Environmental facts” are a constitutive feature of social life, not merely an effect of it.