Incorporating nature in environmental sociology: a critique of Bhaskar and Latour, and a proposal

C.S.A. van Koppen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


There is a vital, but complex and controversial debate in environmental sociology regarding how to bring nature into sociological investigation. This article discusses two influential strands in this debate: Bhaskar’s critical realism and its elaboration by Carolan, and the ‘politics of nature’ approach of Bruno Latour. Building on a critical assessment of these approaches, the article outlines an epistemological framework for a sociology that takes nature (in the sense of natural environment, material objects and human bodies) into account, and gives sociological meaning to natural science findings. At the core of this framework is the notion that sociology has an episteme (in the meaning introduced by Foucault) that is different from that of natural science, and that takes the lifeworld as its object and platform of debate. Nature can be incorporated in this episteme by taking in bodily experience as proposed by phenomenology (in particular, Merleau-Ponty) and by treating natural science facts as sensitizing concepts, not as sociological facts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-185
JournalEnvironmental Sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2017


  • sociology
  • nature
  • critical realism
  • actor-network theory
  • lifeworld


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