Weak Ties, Labor Migration, and Environmental Impacts : Toward a Sociology of Sustainability

Journal or Book Title: Organization & Environment

Keywords: China; energy; environmental impacts, labor migration; natural capital; propensity score; social capital; substitution; sustainability

Volume/Issue: 25 (1)

Page Number(s): 3-24

Year Published: 2012


Debate about the substitutability of manufactured, natural, human, and social capital is at the 

heart of sustainability theory. Sociology can contribute to this debate by examining the processes and mechanisms by which one form of capital is substituted for another. The authors 
examine the substitution among different forms of capitals at China’s Wolong Nature Reserve, 
where the consumption of an important aspect of natural capital, fuelwood, has serious consequences for the environment. The authors found that weak social ties to people in urban 
settings significantly increased rural–urban labor migration. Following the chain of capital substitutions, labor migration then significantly reduced fuelwood consumption. These findings 
indicate policies that facilitate the development of social capital between people in Wolong 
and people in urban areas could substantially reduce the consumption of local natural capital. 
Mechanisms by which different forms of capital are substituted for one another should be 
considered in improving global sustainability.

DOI: 10.1177/1086026611436216

Type of Publication: Journal Article

Publisher: Sage Publications