Why an Environmental Sociology Degree?
Sociology is the study of collective behavior. Environmental sociology is a specialization dealing with the interactions between groups and their environments. Students and practitioners study the social dimensions of environmental problems, such as climate change, resource depletion, pollution, and environmental injustice. Their research attempts to understand why groups make environmentally destructive choices, and discover ways to alter such collective behavior.
Environmental Sociology Undergraduate Programs
Environmental sociology is a specialized field. For this reason, undergraduate degrees in environmental sociology specifically are rare. Most students earn generalized degrees in sociology. A growing number of sociology departments, however, are now offering concentrations in environmental sociology.
Sociology programs generally include required coursework on quantitative sociological analysis and research design, as well as electives on social problems, criminal justice, policy, economics, community development, and class, race, and gender. Programs with concentrations in environmental sociology may offer additional courses on environmental justice, development and underdevelopment (of countries), and the sociology of environmental problems.
A bachelor's degree is usually just the beginning for sociologists; due to the amount of research involved, most jobs in sociology require advanced degrees. Some sociology graduates find work in non-research positions at social services agencies, nonprofit organizations, or businesses, though often not in environment-related positions.
Colorado State University's sociology department offers undergraduate programs with a track in environmental sociology. The concentration includes courses on global environmental issues, sociology of disaster, environmental justice, human population and natural resource use, social change, and other topics. After completing all required courses, students have 30 electives which could be used to take complementary courses in natural sciences, political science, or related areas.
North Carolina Central University offers a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Science with an Environmental Sociology Concentration. A central theme is the effects of environmental problems on people of color. Students must take core math and science courses. The concentration integrates offerings from the sociology department, including courses on the sociology of air issues, water issues, and urban life. A senior seminar and internship with a public or private organization is required.
Master's Degrees in Environmental Sociology
Many college graduates with concentrations in environmental sociology will pursue a master's degree, with the ultimate goal of earning a Ph.D. Graduate programs offer more specialized coursework focusing on various aspects of environmental sociology. However, the number of specialized courses will vary by college. Some colleges offer only one or two courses focusing exclusively on environmental issues, while others with broader faculty interests offer courses on a variety of niche topics. Master's programs generally also require additional coursework in statistics and research methods.
The Department of Sociology at Rutgers University in New Jersey administers a robust Environment, Technology, and Society Program for graduate students. The program studies how groups interact with both natural and built environments. It draws upon research in environmental sociology, organizational theory, political science, economic theory, the sociology of development, and the sociology of science and technology to investigate patterns leading to sustainable and unsustainable practices.
The University of Montana, located in Missoula, offers a Master of Arts in Sociology with a specialization in Rural and Environmental Change. The option focuses on the American West, covering topics including rural health, welfare and work, community development and assessment, indigenous peoples, and natural resource management. In addition to core graduate courses, students must also take a seminar in rural and environmental change, and two additional courses within the specialization. Students interested in the environmental track will want to take Environmental Sociology and Population and Society.
New Mexico State University offers a graduate program with a specialization in environmental sociology. In addition to courses on advanced sociological research, available courses include environmental sociology, globalization, and the sociology of development and underdevelopment.
Doctoral Programs in Environmental Sociology
Doctoral degrees are required for college faculty. They're also often required for research positions at nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies. Doctoral programs focus heavily on research methods and independent study to prepare candidates for research positions.
The University of Colorado, Boulder offers a Ph.D. in Sociology with a concentration in Environmental Sociology. The program's strengths are aligned with faculty areas of expertise, which include population-environment dynamics, agrifood systems, environmental inequality and justice, and environmental regulatory agency dynamics, as well as other areas. Ph.D. students interested in collaborative research and other opportunities are ideally located near many environmental organizations.
Northeastern University offers a Ph.D. in Environmental Sociology focusing on environmental justice and health. Candidates may choose a concentration in Environment and Health. The program investigates the link between the societal causes of illness and environmental degradation, and is particularly strong in environmental inequality. Students will have access to the resources of affiliated environmental justice and health centers.
Working as an Environmental Sociologist
The majority of environmental sociologists work as faculty at colleges and universities. Some are also employed by nonprofit environmental agencies and public policy organizations. Jobs in sociology are expected to grow faster than average through 2022. This will likely include an increasing number of positions for environmental sociologists, due to increasing interest in sustainability. Those with advanced degrees and demonstrated research skills will have the best opportunities.
Core Skills You'll Develop While Studying Environmental Sociology
- Quantitative Analysis: Sociologists use statistical methods to analyze data and uncover trends.
- Writing: Since sociologists write academic papers and reports, students will also develop their writing skills.
- Collecting Information: Sociologists learn to gather information for their research from surveys, the professional literature, and other sources.
- Processing Information: Sociologists code, categorize, and tabulate survey responses and other data.
- Critical Thinking: Sociologist use reasoning to identify the causes of environmental and social problems, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions.