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Nature and the Social Sciences : Examples from the Electricity and Waste Sectors

  • Mikael Klintman
Publishing year: 2000
Language: English
Publication/Series: Lund Dissertations in Sociology
Issue: 32
Document type: Dissertation
Publisher: Department of Sociology, Lund University

Abstract english

Popular Abstract
When society first perceived the environmental condition as problematic, focus was on local emissions with local consequences. Subsequently, the center of attention partly moved beyond local effect research to a broader interest in, for instance, ecocycle processes of energy, and the whole lifecycle of materials. However, technological and natural scientific analyses of these phenomena were not exhaustive. They left out more essential issues of how modern society works, of human lifestyles, and values. In the early 1970s, the social sciences and humanities began to be allocated more research hours to deal with environmental problems. Ever since, there have been debates as to the role the social sciences ought to play in acquirement of knowledge about environmental issues. The book has two interrelated objectives. One objective is meta-theoretical and concerns the exploration of theoretical debates connected to issues of understanding environmental problems. Mikael Klintman has found it vital to go down to the basic questions that constitute the titles of the first chapters, for instance: "What is an environmental problem," and "Who can learn what about nature"? He claims that the holistic research interest in the actual environmental condition, as well as environmental problems, presupposes the ontological belief in a material world which exists regardless of our perception of it-a material world that it is possible to attain practically adequate knowledge about. Nevertheless, environmental problems are highly value-ridden, something that needs to be admitted if we are to come to terms with environmental conflicts. The other objective is empirical/analytical, referring to the analysis of "green" public participation in the electricity and waste sectors in Sweden and partly in the Netherlands and the UK. Being utility sectors raises interesting questions of household awareness of green adaptation, since the practices are closely associated with routines which are difficult to change. Furthermore, Nature and the Social Sciences develops green identity concepts in these utility sectors which traditionally have not been held to be tied to conscious processes of identity building. An additional reason for choosing electricity and waste pertains to their involving local public practices as well as local and global consequences. On the other hand, electricity and waste reveal important differences regarding supporting social structures. Nevertheless, the study shows how these differences are rarely materially determined in any irrevocable way. Instead, structural reform may strengthen the social support substantially.
The book has two interrelated objectives. One objective is meta-theoretical and concerns the exploration of theoretical debates connected to issues of studying society and environmental problems; another objective is empirical/analytical, referring to the analysis of "green" public participation in the electricity and waste sectors in Sweden, and partly in the Netherlands as well as the UK. The metatheoretical part draws the conclusion that the ontology of critical realism, combined with a problem-subjectivist tenet, is a particularly fruitful basis for the social sciences in order to provide an understanding environmental conflicts. The empirical questions refer to preconditions and obstacles to public participations in the "greening" of the domestic practices related to electricity and waste. Methodologically, the empirical part is based on a combination of statistical data and comparative case study research, conducted through semi-structured interviews with local authorities, housing organizations, energy companies, a windpower cooperative, and households. The challenges of providers are divided into making visible, making acceptable, and making doable, based on both material and socio-political characteristics of the sectors. Households, in turn, face the challenges of constructing combinations of green identity as a foundation of their motivation: ecological, environmental, economic, and social green identities. The study shows how differences in identity-combinations across cases-although materially influenced-are rarely materially determined in any irrevocable way. Instead, policy reform may substantially strengthen the social support of action-motivating combinations of green identities.


Carolinasalen, Lund
  • Rolf Lidskog (Associate professor)


  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
  • ecology
  • critical realism
  • electricity
  • environment
  • epistemology
  • green identity
  • greening
  • meta-theory
  • nature
  • ontology
  • social science
  • public participation
  • waste
  • windpower
  • sociology
  • Sociologi


  • [unknown] [unknown]
  • ISSN: 1102-4712
  • ISBN: 91-7267-009-6
  • ISRN: LUSADG/SASO--00/1129--SE
Mikael Klintman
E-mail: mikael [dot] klintman [at] soc [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 70 284 55 48

+46 70 284 55 48


Sociologiska institutionen, Paradisgatan 5, Hus G, Lund


Sociologist with a broad, human scientific interest in social, economic and evolutionary dimensions of environmental and health related problems.

Department of Sociology
Lund University
Visiting address: Sandgatan 11, House G, Lund
Postal address: Box 114 , SE-221 00 LUND, SWEDEN
Telephone: Student Office +46 46-222 88 44, Lund University Switchboard +46 46-222 00 00

Faculty of Social Sciences