Beaches, Bays, and Boats: A Sociological Perspective

Helen Brethauer-Gay, Sociology & Criminal Justice
Florida A & M University


A basic understanding of the natural phenomena precedes a discussion of the effects of humans on the natural environment. A macro and micro analysis of why historical decisions were made that have led to current problematic issues is followed by responses to the issues now in need of remediation. Macro analysis covers economic and ideological reasons and justifications; micro analysis addresses the personal aspect such as perceptions and willingness to alter personal behaviors.

Course URL: []
Course Size:

Course Format:
Small-group seminar

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

There is no pre-requisite for this class but students should have a basic grasp of biological and sociological sciences. This class will be part of the newly created environmental track in the Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice curriculum.

Course Content:

Content is covered via lecture, class discussions and activities and field experience such as a visit to an estuary (kayak trip). Content covered includes water related environmental issues, history, remediation, and sustainability. A broadened understanding of the social causes and possibilities for changing attitudes toward environmental issues at hand will help students make better life choices to support rather than harm the natural environment.

Course Goals:

Students will develop an understanding of the historical progression of why the environment is in the shape it is now. This includes a basic understanding of products, processes, and practices, both naturally occurring and human produced, creating current environmental problems. One of which is a lack of knowledge or foresight about possible outcomes when a product, process, or practice was first instituted. Students will be challenged to consider that, now that we know there is a problem, what can, what will we, do about it? The goal is to encourage students to understand the issues so that they start changing attitudes and behaviors themselves such that they become role models for others.

Course Features:

The presentation of actual scientific research data coupled with a sociological analysis of social systems, individual attitudes and behaviors will help students to critically assess the current state of affairs.

Course Philosophy:

Before any action can or will be taken, individuals require a full understanding of an issue. Not just currently but from an historical background because the problem did not arise overnight and the solution will not occur quickly. Time to take action before irreparable damage may be brief. This is, partially, because a lack of knowledge about, along with a clear understanding of environmental degradation, coupled with multiple social forces have caused the issue to be tabled more than once. The design of this course is clear: facts about the creation and existence of problematic issues will lead to existing and proposed solutions for such issues. Knowledge that positive change is not only possible but is occurring at a grass roots level will inspire student to take action themselves.


Assessment takes place in three ways: in-class activities; three exams; a final term paper or group project on a class related topic.


Syllabus Draft (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 18kB Oct16 17)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

See syllabus draft.