Thorstein Veblen's Contribution to Environmental Sociology

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Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857-1929), the American political economist and sociologist was renowned for his heretical views and satirical wit on societal mores and coining catchy terms such as “the leisure class,” “conspicuous consumption” and “pecuniary emulation.” Renewed enthusiasm on Veblen’s profound and incisive thought has led to new writings on his contributions to diverse topics such as fashion and design, marketing and consumer theory, and sustainable development. Until now, however, his potential theoretical contributions to environmental theory have been largely ignored. This edited collection examines Veblen’s potential contributions to the subfield of political ecology from several diverse yet complementary angles, including his take on wasteful industrialism, absentee ownership, relations of power and influence, and growing consumerism. It is hoped that this work will encourage further study into Veblen’s influence on environmental theory from critical societal perspectives.


“As the following contributions make clear, Veblen’s core concept, waste, and associated value, abhorrence of waste, informed his intellectual project . . . Until now, Veblen’s idea of waste has been linked invariably with conspicuous consumption. The publication of this excellent and pertinent collection of articles should change this perception forever and broaden our social scientific understanding of both Veblen’s relatively neglected contribution to the debate about political ecology and our current analysis of this urgent issue.” – Dr. Stephen Edgell, Professor of Sociology, University of Salford

“Put together in a thoughtful and well-integrated fashion, these essays draw on a wide range of sociological, economic, and feminist perspectives to demonstrate the complexity and the contemporary relevance of Veblen’s theories, as well as the ways in which post-Veblen schools of thought such as eco-feminism can shed new light on his thinking . . . This volume will be of interest not only to economists, sociologists, political scientists, ecologists and environmentalists, but to those who are engaged in and interested in crossing disciplinary borders.” – Dr. Ingrid K. Urberg, Associate Professor of Scandinavian Studies, University of Alberta

“By the time humans have reached the mastery stage of their evolving relationship with the world, they are fully – perhaps hopelessly – immersed in their own collective self-indulgence to the peril of themselves and many, if not all, other life forms. This, Veblen posits, is the source of class society and of societal conflict generally. It is, in briefest summary, the core insight he contributes to our search for a coherent political ecology with its corresponding non-predatory political economy. The present volume fleshes out this insight and suggests fruitful avenues for further thought. It is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in Veblen, as well as in society’s relationship to global ecology, clearly the defining issue of our present era.” - Dr. Russell H. Bartley, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Table of Contents

Foreword by Professor Stephen Edgell
Chapter One – Introduction: Political Ecology and Thorstein Veblen - Ross E. Mitchell
Chapter Two – Animism and the Roots of a Veblenian Political Ecology - Sidney Plotkin
Chapter Three – Thorstein Veblen and the Natural World - P. A. Saram
Chapter Four – Thorstein Veblen: Pioneer in Environmental Sociology - Ross E. Mitchell
Chapter Five – Veblen, Innis, and the Classic Tradition: A North American Economic Sociology - Ross E. Mitchell
Chapter Six – The Nobleness of Labor and the Instinct of Workmanship: Nature, Work, Gender, and Politics in Harriet Martineau and Thorstein Veblen - Susan Hoecker-Drysdale
Chapter Seven – Polemics against Patriarchy: Thorstein Veblen on Gender, Nature, and the Making of Modern Capitalist Culture - Molly Talcott
Chapter Eight – The Spaces of Individualization and Capitalism: Space and Nature Reflections in Simmel and Veblen - Matthias Gross and Ross E. Mitchell
Chapter Nine – A Tale of Two Parks: Photography, Pollution, and the “Pecuniary Canons of Taste” - Keri Cronin
Chapter Ten – Absentee Ownership and Resource-dependent Communities: Veblen and Beyond - Ross E. Mitchell
Chapter Eleven – Implications for Political Ecology in Veblen - Solidelle Wasser

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