SOC 665. Community, Ecology and Social Action

This graduate seminar links emancipatory sociology with practical skills designed to empower ordinary people to organize effectively in the community for social, environmental and economic justice. [Prereq: graduate standing.]

Sociology originated as a field whose early practitioners and theorists were centrally concerned about human emancipation and liberation. The daily experiences of the oppressed and subjugated were a central focus of what some have called “liberation” or “public” sociology.  This course examines the history of this emancipatory sociology and interrogates fundamental issues concerning the usefulness of contemporary social science knowledge and skills to this end.  It explores the call for a reassertion of an emancipatory “action” social science practice designed to empower ordinary people to confront contemporary social and ecological problems.  To make sense of how social science can be used for social change I have organized the course around the following themes: critical and public sociology; sociological theory; environmental sociology; community organizing; and, social movements. We will take a holistic, systems-based approach to examine the role social science can play as a vehicle for change, using an array of critical social theories, concepts, methods, and practices to articulate a framework for addressing the complex, interrelated threats to community and the environment.

In addition, the course will provide students with both a conceptual framework and the practical skills for organizing effectively in the community for social, environmental and economic justice. Through an exploration of the different kinds of community organizations we will examine the concepts of philanthropy, self-interest, power, institutional change, community control, and leadership. It will also explore how these models relate to social movements and how issues of diversity, including race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation and age affect organizing philosophy and strategy.


Daniel Faber & Deborah McCarthy (eds.). 2005. Foundations for Social Change: Critical Perspectives on Philanthropy and Popular Movements. Rowman  & Littlefield.

Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. 2017. The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. South End Press.

John Bellamy Foster. 1999. The Vulnerable Planet. Monthly Review.

David Pellow. 2014. Total Liberation: The Power and Promise of Animal Rights and the Radical Earth Movement. University of Minnesota Press.

Peter Gelderloos. 2015. The Failure of Nonviolence. South End Press.

John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, & Richard York. 2010, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. Monthly Review Press.

Julia Sze (ed). 2018, Sustainability: Approaches to Environmental Justice and Social Power. New York University Press

Jordan Flaherty 2016, No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality. AK Press.

Nick Montgomery and Carla Bergman. 2017, Joyful Militancy: Building Resistance in Toxic Times. AK Press.

Shelley Streeby. 2018, Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World-Making Through Science Fiction and Activism. University of California Press.