Social Ecology

Pamela McMullin-Messier,
Central Washington University


This is a sociology course but also serves as an interdisciplinary elective for environmental and policy studies; the course revolves around discussion and application of the concepts and theories of environmental sociology. For the research project, students perform a series of assignments addressing mapping of natural hazards and social vulnerabilities in the surrounding community, a social survey of perceptions surrounding hazards and risk, and a final presentation geared toward educating potential stakeholders in the community about hazards, risk, and resiliency. Material in lectures compliments and supports the hazard project activities, and student work is assessed through a series of exams, web-based discussions, writing assignments, and a final group presentation.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and discussion (first 2/3 of quarter); flipped-classroom and group projects (last 1/3 of quarter)

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate; including masters programs

Course Context:

This is an upper-level course with no pre-requisites. It serves as a recommended course for students in the sociology, environmental studies, and sustainable tourism programs. It also satisfies the college-wide requirement for upper-level course work. Typically, about 70% of the students are social science majors or minors, 20% of the students are STEM-related majors or minors, and 10% are from non-science majors. This course is demanding for a upper-level course, as it requires a considerable amount of writing and analysis.


This course integrates topics from both social and environmental sciences as students study the hazards and vulnerabilities surrounding our campus, including perceptions about risk and preparedness. The course includes 3 assignments that model how hazards scientists gather and analyze data. Students make observations in their communities and map hazards and social vulnerabilities to assess risk. Students collect survey data on risk perception, knowledge, and preparation. Students learn how to analyze and interpret their data by creating overlapping maps, assessing survey data, and synthesize and as a group they report these findings to a potential local stakeholder.


Syllabus for Social Ecology (Microsoft Word 73kB Apr6 14)

References and Notes:

Text: Michael Mayerfield Bell. 2012. 4th Edition. An Invitation to Environmental Sociology. Pine Forge Press. This textbook utilizes a nice synthesis of social and environmental scientific approaches.

Journal Article: Michael Siegrist & George Cvetkovich. 2000. "Perception of Hazards: The Role of Social Trust and Knowledge." Risk Analysis. Vol. 20, No 5: pp 713-719.

I also post web sites, reports, and links to news articles that are relevant to the course and activities in order to make the course apply to real world examples and current events.