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Neumann1

by Pamela Neumann

Why do so many people put up with highly contaminated living conditions? Conventional academic wisdom suggests that many communities do not protest environmental degradation because they are afraid of losing their jobs. They trade their health for the promise of employment.

My recent research in the Peruvian town of La Oroya, which is plagued by dangerously high lead levels, questions this dominant framework for understanding community responses to environmental hazards.

Instead, I argue that many residents’ reluctance to protest against pervasive lead contamination is tied to deeply held perceptions and beliefs about their town’s identity, and particularly a desire to protect their community from perceived outsiders. While material incentives do drive social action (or inaction) at times, it is also imperative to analyze how localized cultural processes—such as how people make sense of their own surroundings—contribute to the dynamics of social mobilization, as well as the reproduction of economic and environmental inequalities.

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Charles Perrow[Ed note: This is the ninth of 14 posts in a virtual panel on The Future of Organizational Sociology.]

Does organizational sociology have a future?

The more important question is does mankind have a future in view of climate change. Sociology in general has been slow to deal with this problem, the major one facing mankind, and since organizations are responsible for most of the mounting emissions of greenhouse gases, organizational theorists should be leading the way. As I recall no one at the 2014 ASA panel on the future of organizational sociology mentioned climate change or the role that large polluting organizations play (even though Harland Prechel is doing great work on the topic).

Perhaps it is to be expected. Over the last 10 or so years papers at the annual American Sociological Association meetings that mention climate change (or global warming, as it used to be called before we got politically correct) were in rural sociology or the newly emerging environmental sociology, and dealt the effects of warming on gender, race and poverty, and did not mention the big emitters. It was not until 2012 that we had a thematic session that dealt with organizations and warming. But we have a “society of organizations” and big polluters are among the biggest and the most powerful. Organizational sociology would have a great future if it turned from the themes of the panel and addressed the greatest threat to mankind.

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I have noticed there is little overlap between scholars studying organizations, occupations, and work and those studying environmental sociology.  Then I fortuitously received a paper in my email in-box from my WSU colleague, Gene Rosa, his graduate student Kyle Knight, and their collaborator, sociological economist Juliet Schor (the paper wasn’t intended for me, but an email address error landed it in my in-box!).  I read the paper with interest and think OOW members can benefit from knowing about it so we can build collaborations with environmental scholars and add more substance to the argument about the need for employers to redefine and redesign work. Read More