The study of Nature/Society (human-environment interactions) is central to the discipline of Geography. Geographers working in this tradition examine complex linkages and multi-scalar processes between the biophysical environment and human societies. In an era of profound economic and environmental change, scholarship and teaching in this field are of high relevance to scientific debates and political decision-making in environmental governance, conflicts over increasingly scarce resources, human dimensions of global change, including climate change, livelihood and ecological sustainability, and ecosystem service provision.
In the Department of Geography at Penn State, scholarship on human-environment interactions focuses on justice and the environment, global change processes, climate change impacts and adaptation, hazards, risks, and vulnerability, water governance, and changes in agro-biodiversity. Faculty members also study management and policy, including contested issues of environmental governance, conservation and protected areas, and social movements. Furthermore, several faculty members pursue research that investigates the linkages between poverty, marginalization, social exclusion, development, and agency.
Faculty members in Nature/Society draw upon a variety of theoretical and conceptual frameworks to examine this broad range of topics, including political ecology, complex systems science (resilience thinking), ethnoscience, and sustainability science. They also use a mix of methodological approaches such as participatory/community-based research, stakeholder consultation and deliberation, and adaptive co-management to better understand and actively involve the myriad of players at multiple spatial and temporal scales in complex human-environment interactions. Faculty conduct field research in Western and Southern Africa, the American Southwest, the Andes, the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region, Southwest Florida, and Southeastern Europe.