The social sciences have been faced with a series of challenges to their relevance since the beginning of the 21st century. In particular, the growing urgency of environmental crises and the remarkable increase in knowledge of genomics have raised questions about sociology’s ability to analyse the contemporary world and, especially, its ability to understand the relationship between the natural world and human societies. The argument of this volume is that sociol- ogy has a significant contribution to make to this understanding and that it is imperative that sociologists become involved in what are often seen as purely scientific and technical discussions. In this opening chapter we contribute to this engagement by considering the question of how sociology understands the natural and the social and why many sociologists are re-thinking this relation- ship. We argue that this rethinking is due, on the one hand, to political and theo- retical developments within and without sociology and, on the other hand, to the challenge of climate change and recent scientific interventions in, and transfor- mations of, ‘nature’. First, however, we discuss the relationship between nature and society that underpinned the development of sociology as a discipline.
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