Allan Schnaiberg

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Allan Schnaiberg
Born (1939-08-20)August 20, 1939
Montreal, Quebec
Died June 6, 2009(2009-06-06) (aged 69)
Evanston, Illinois
Residence Evanston, Illinois
Citizenship USA
Fields Environmental sociology
Alma mater BS, McGill University
MA, PhD, University of Michigan
Thesis Some Determinants and Consequences of Modernism in Turkey (1968)
Doctoral students Kenneth A. Gould
Adam S. Weinberg
David N. Pellow
Notable awards Distinguished Contribution Award,
ASA Section on Environment and Technology
Spouse Edith Harshbarger

Allan Schnaiberg (August 20, 1939 – June 6, 2009) was an American sociologist known especially for his contributions to environmental sociology. At the time of his death, Schnaiberg was Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Montreal on August 20, 1939, Schnaiberg was the son of Belle and Harry Schnaiberg.[1] According to his curriculum vitae, he "Attended McGill University for four years, majoring in Chemistry and minoring in Mathematics. After graduating with distinction in general science, worked for one year as an analytic chemist, and two years as a metallurgical engineer."[2] He received his Ph.D. in Sociology in 1968 from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; his dissertation was entitled "Some determinants and consequences of modernism in Turkey". He became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Career and contributions[edit]

Schnaiberg joined the sociology faculty at Northwestern University in 1969, serving as departmental chair from 1976-1979.

Allan Schnaiberg was a brilliant and incisive critical analyst. He was the author of over 70 scholarly articles and books on topics ranging from globalization and the environment to labor and social inequality. His contribution to the sociological understanding of the relationship between social systems and ecosystems was groundbreaking, prescient, and enduring. Although he never accepted the designation of “environmental sociologist” he was a founder of the subfield, providing it with a deeply rigorous analytical foundation.

His “Treadmill of Production” framework for understanding the social causes and consequences of environmental problems formed the first, and arguably still the most comprehensive and influential sociological approach to understanding environmental problems. His 1980 book, The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity remains one of, if not the most important work in the field, and a necessary point of departure for any student of environmental sociology. His work was motivated by a deep and sincere concern for people’s quality of life. The body of work that he produced has remained central to intellectual debate in environmental sociology. Many of his earliest insights have come to be accepted as basic premises of socioenvironmental analysis, although they were far from such when he first theorized them, such as:

  • The degradation of the environment, and the degradation of people are part of the same systemic process, and deeply interrelated.
  • The costs of environmental problems are borne disproportionately by the poor and disenfranchised, and the benefits gained in creating those problems go disproportionately to the powerful and privileged.
  • The causes of environmental problems are deeply structural, complex, and multifaceted, and not a result of single factors such as “overpopulation”, “runaway technology”, or “overconsumption”.
  • A politically activated and mobilized citizenry is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition for environmental (and social) improvement.

In addition to The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity, Allan Schnaiberg co-authored four books with his former students: Environment and Society: The Enduring Conflict (St. Martin’s Press 1994; Blackburn Press 2000), Local Environmental Struggles: Citizen Activism in the Treadmill of Production (Cambridge University Press 1996), Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development (Princeton University Press 2000), and The Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy (Paradigm Publishers 2008).

He retired from Northwestern in 2008 but remained actively engaged in his field.

Honors and awards[edit]

Schnaiberg received numerous honors and awards for his scholarship over the years, among them the Distinguished Contribution Award of the Section on Environment and Technology, American Sociological Association, in 1984. A few years later, he was elected Chair-elect (1990–91), and then served as Chair (1992–93) of that Section.[3]


  • Gould, Kenneth A., David N. Pellow, and Allan Schnaiberg. (2008) The Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy. Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59451-506-4
  • Gould, Kenneth A., Allan Schnaiberg, and Adam S. Weinberg. (1996) Local Environmental Struggles: Citizen Activism in the Treadmill of Production. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55519-1
  • Schnaiberg, Allan. (1980) The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-502610-1
  • Schnaiberg, Allan, Nicholas Watts, and Klaus Zimmerman, eds. (1986) Distributional Conflicts in Environmental-Resource Policy. New York: St. Martin's Press. 0312213409
  • Schnaiberg, Allan, and Kenneth A. Gould. (1994) Environment and Society: The Enduring Conflict. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-09128-1
  • Weinberg, Adam S., David N. Pellow, and Allan Schnaiberg. (2000) Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05014-7


  1. ^ "Allan Schnaiberg" (obituary)
  2. ^ Schnaiberg's curriculum vitae
  3. ^ "Cumulative Listing of Section Officers", ASA Section on Environment and Technology

External links[edit]