Field Research: Comparison of the environmental awareness of US- and European students

Scientific Study, 2004

20 Pages, Grade: A-



1. Outline of Problem: How much does environmental awareness depend on the society people live in? - A comparison between American and European students
1.1. Interest in the topic
1.2. Sociological importance of my project
1.3 Questions asked and Conceptualization of the project
1.4. Hidden hypothesis or biases at the beginning of the research

2. Methods Used
2.1 Research Design
2.2 Methodological Reflections

3. Findings
3.1 Questions guide

Interview with: male, 21 years old, dual citizen (Canadian and US), Caucasion, Canadian family, moved to LA with 5 years, says that he is more connected to Canadian rules, Agnostic, 20 years old brother, international studies/policy major, Father's profession: executive in charge of the National Hot Rod Association (Organising car races), Mother's profession: Editor and Graphic design, prefers not to say his parents' income 19

1. Outline of Problem: How much does environmental awareness depend on the society people live in? - A comparison between American and European students

1.1. Interest in the topic

When it came to finding a project for my field research, it came immediately to my mind to do the project about environmental awareness. My interest in this subject is first of all personal. I was always interested in environmental protection and also active for environmental groups. In Germany, I am a member of the green party. At my home university, I am a sociology major, but there were never courses about environmental sociology offered. When I looked through the catalog of courses, prior to my arrival at UCSD, I immediately signed up for this course. I have benefited a lot from doing research on a subject which I am also dealing with in theory in another course. For the interview guide I chose questions that were directly connected with the theories I learned in my class Sociology of the Environment. As I have been active in environmental groups myself and defended my very pro-environmental opinion in a lot of discussions, I had a strong interest in the subject, as well as a lot of emotions connected to the subject before I started my research. I was very curious about how people would respond to my questions. As Lofland and Lofland state in Analyzing Social Settings, taking a subject I am personally very emotional to, “may cause methodological and ethical difficulties” (Lofland and Lofland, 10). So, it was not easy for me to listen to the first interviewees I had that were not very concerned about environmental issues. But I am still very glad that I chose the subject as I never lost the interest in it during the whole time of the research. Since I have been interested in this subject for about ten years and also plan on working in a job connected to the environment, that is not a very surprising fact. As Lofland and Lofland state about the naturalistic approach: ““Starting where you are” provides the necessary meaningful linkages between the personal and emotional, on the one hand, and the stringent intellectual operations to come, on the other” (Lofland and Lofland 10).

1.2. Sociological importance of my project

Environmental society is a field of sociology which seems to become more and more important. At UCSD, a new minor Environmental Studies was just created. In my German school, Augsburg University, a new graduate course of study called Environmental Ethics was established two years ago. The subject seems to gain a broader attention not only in some groups of society, but also in the scientific sector.

The main difficulty environmental sociology has to deal with is a constant uncertainty about facts. With many topics in the field of the environment, for example genetically modified food, even scientists who know very much about the science of this technology have different opinions about its risk. Politics, the media and the economy play a large role in using different opinions of different scientists for their own purposes. That is why people have very different ideas about the risks and dangers of environmental pollution even in the same society. It makes a difference if people gain their information about nuclear power plants from environmental groups or from engineers earning their money working for the nuclear power industry. But my research is not mainly based on what people think about environmental pollution in one society, but also what they think about it in different societies. I compared the environmental awareness of students in the USA and Europe. I think that the USA and Europe are comparative groups for this subject as both reflect highly developed countries with a large mixture of cultural, ethnic and religious groups living together, which was also found among my interviewees. My interest was to see if there are still differences between these two groups of students. The problems of environmental pollution are the same in America and Europe. For instance, Global warming would affect both continents and nuclear power plants have about the same security standards. Information about environmental pollution is also available in both groups. If one of the two comparative student groups is now more concerned about the risks of these issues, we can see to a large extent how opinions, fears and perceptions about one and the same issues are formed by the society people live in, which is a highly significant sociological investigation. From these findings, I want to go a step further and search for possible explanations and effects that my results have for these societies.

1.3 Questions asked and Conceptualization of the project

As I was very attached to the subject myself and have taken the course Sociology of the Environment, I had a lot of theoretical framework collected with I had to chose from as I could not imply all of it into the interview, because I did not want to make a lot longer than one hour. “The reader mus imagine the task of combining the theoretical framework with which any researcher must start and the mass of data collected from all these sources and converting all of it into a single interview” (Shaffir 73). So I left, for example, the relation between humans and animals out of the interview.

As it can be seen in the questions guide which is attached to this paper, I concentrated on three different of environmental questions in this paper. The questions were mainly from five central topical fields.

First, what values does the interviewee connect with environmental protection and nature. With this questions I wanted to find out if the interviewee has certain values connected with environmental protection and where they come from. Do they come from a believe in God? Does the interviewee like being in nature and therefore wants to protect it? Does she/he care for future generations? Does she/he feel being part of nature as a human being? I wanted to get clearer about the interviewee's values in regard to the environment and with which facts these values are possibly connected and with which they are not.

The second set of questions were about what people are doing concretely to save the environment. I wanted to know which amount of actions the students are taking and what things they are doing in regard to environmental protection. I asked various questions about, for instance, buying environmental friendly products, being actively engaged in environmental organizations or giving money to these organizations. I wanted to see how the concrete actions of the students correlate with what they said about their values before. And I was very interested in possible differences between European and US students here.

Thirdly, I concentrated on the awareness of real and possible consequences of pollution and the fear of them. Do students think of pollution as something that could affect them personally or is it something that is far away from their lives? Is pollution a big problem for humanity in this decade or is it a minor problem compared to other problems humanity has to face? Do students from the USA or Europe have different fear of environmental risks like nuclear power stations or genetically modified food?

Fourthly, what are students' opinions in terms of politics and environmental pollution? Do they involve environmental politics in their decision who to vote for? How do they judge the efforts their country is putting into environmental protection also compared to other countries? How do European students see the US in terms of environmental politics and vice versa?

The last question is about students' sources of information. Did they talk about the subject in their families, do they listen to TV-news or read newspapers and if so, which ones do they read? I am asking these questions, because opinions depends very much in information sources.

1.4. Hidden hypothesis or biases at the beginning of the research

My knowledge about the subject comes mainly from living in the German society for my entire life and observing the news and discussions about the subject. I can see the differences in the USA where I have lived for a short time. For instance, the recycling system is much more advanced in Germany, we never use polystyrene in our school cafeteria and the gas prices are much higher in Germany where our public transportation system is also better. In my conversations with people here I was able to listen to opinions I have never really in Germany about the subject of environmental pollution. For instance, people here in the USA tend not to fear genetically modified food, whereas they do in Germany. I also put this question into my questions guide in order to have a direct comparison.


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Field Research: Comparison of the environmental awareness of US- and European students
San Diego State University  (Sociology)
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This paper is my field research paper on an investigation of the environmental awareness of students in the US and Europe. I interviewed students with guided interviews. There are a lot of methodological reflections of different types of field research and on how to design field reserach in the paper.
Field, Research, Comparison, European
Quote paper
Daniela Keller (Author), 2004, Field Research: Comparison of the environmental awareness of US- and European students, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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