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Foreground and Background: Environment as Site and Social Issue


  • We thank Alexandra Rutherford, Fran Cherry, Rhoda Unger, and Peter R. Walker for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Any errors of fact or interpretation in this text are our own.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Susan Opotow, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, 899 Tenth Avenue, New York, NY 10019 [e-mail:].


To examine how theSociety for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI)has engaged with environmental issues throughout its 75-year history, we consulted fiveSPSSI-based data sources. Our analysis, attentive to the larger sociopolitical contexts over time, focuses onSPSSI's attention to the physical environment, the places in which social living and interactions occur. InSPSSI's early years, social issues research was often situated within specific locales. Since 1960 and the emergence of environmental psychology and the environmental movement,SPSSIincreasing focuses on environment as a social issue in its own right as well part of other social issues. Over time there has been a decline in mentions of the physical environment inSPSSI's methods texts. This historical analysis highlights the specifics of context inSPSSI's environmental research and urges attention to the physical as well as social aspects of environment in research and activism.