Putting the “Social” in the Study of Environmental Science: Epidemiology and the Case for Adjusting the “Nature-Nurture” Balance in Geographic Study

Authors: Georges Cravins*, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Topics: Environmental Science, Geographic Thought, Population Geography
Keywords: Nature, Nurture, Environmental Study
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Endymion, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In recent decades, Western academia has witnessed a proliferation of programs, institutes and degrees devoted to the study of the environment. Quite commonly, there has been a two-pronged approach to the formal study of environment in most colleges and universities in the Anglophone world: one set of programs which is based in the natural sciences, including in physical geography, biology, and chemistry; another set of programs which is usually based in the social sciences and the humanities. In some universities, environmental programs reflect this bifurcation, with options in “environmental studies” and “environmental science”. With respect to “environmental science,” the focus has clearly been on study of phenomenon which can be measured, tested, and quantitatively analyzed. Due to academic specialization, a typical academically-trained “environmentalist” is often someone whose analysis is narrowly-focused and limited to an analysis of immediate, directly measurable causes. My own experience teaching and working with both students and faculty specializing in environmental science has demonstrated the crucial need to place the social environment – that composite of experiences which are created and orchestrated by human society – at the center of environmental study. The focus of this research is disease etiology. It is argued that in the study of disease, too much emphasis is placed on the immediate analysis of bio-chemical elements, and too little attention is given to the social-environmental factors which often determine the level and seriousness of major modern human diseases, including Type II diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and many other critical conditions.

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