SCHOLARSHIP AND RESEARCH

 

Throughout my career, I have strived to connect my professional activities to the larger civic and moral purpose of creating a just and ecologically sustainable society.  Thus, in my intellectual work, I seek to unite theoretical inquiry with the task of fostering a democratic and reflective political practice that can guide society’s development toward ecological sustainability.  These concerns inevitably lead to the core policy questions, such as: What is the nature of our social structure?  What causes our society to change? How can we facilitate a shift to an ecologically sustainable society?  To address these questions, I have developed a research agenda on creating and changing environmental policy that interweaves the perspectives of critical theory, social movements, and environmental sociology.  My primary research focus is on environmental politics and the social interactions and processes that drive how our society treats the natural environment. Hence, I examine the historical evolution of key collective actors, belief systems, and institutions involved in the creation of U.S. environmental policies.  This involves investigating the interactions between social movement organizations, other social institutions, and the larger social structure and how these interactions affect the development of a range of environmental policies.  My research and analysis under this rubric was initiated in the publication of my first book, Agency, Democracy, and Nature: The U.S. Environmental Movement from a Critical Theory Perspective (MIT Press, 2000).  The book combines multiple theoretical perspectives with empirical and historical research to explicate the nature of environmental politics in the United States.  I have recently expanded my studies of the U.S. environmental movement by focusing on the environmental justice movement.  Some of the results of this work appear in an edited volume, Power, Justice, and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement (MIT Press, 2005), which I co-edited with Dr. David Pellow of the University of California, San Diego.

 

My current ongoing research, in collaboration with Dr. J. Craig Jenkins of Ohio State University, involves two related projects funded by the National Science Foundation.  The first project, Civil Society and the Environment: The Mobilization of the U.S. Environmental Movement, 1900- 2000, is an analysis of organizational relationships in the environmental field, focusing on the interactions between environmental advocacy institutions, foundations, and government institutions from 1900-2000. In this research we address these issues by analyzing the long-term mobilization of the environmental movement in the U.S. over the past century. We focus on three interrelated dimensions of mobilization: (1) the production of new discursive frames; (2) SMO development; and (3) collective action. This project addresses the following research questions:

 

·        What are the sociopolitical factors contributing to the long-term mobilization of the environmental movement?  Does this differ across environmental discursive frames, issue concerns, types of SMOs, and forms of collective action?

 

·        How has the organization of the environmental movement changed over the past century and a half? Is there a decline in democratic participation and a rise of technocratic “astro-turf organizations” or protest businesses? Are institutional philanthropy and professionalization creating movement centralization or a larger loose network of transitory issue coalitions?

 

·        Is environmental mobilization stimulated or contained by the anti-environmental countermovement? Is there a spiral of movement/countermovement interaction in which similar discursive frames, organization and tactics (including protest) are adopted and diffused across these contending actors?

 

The second project:  Protecting the Environment:  Does the Environmental Movement Matter, focuses on the role of the environmental movement in bringing about environmental improvement.  Social movements are seen in social theory as one of the central actors in civil society.  Civil society provides provides an autonomous site for social interaction and discussion about social problems, devising possible solutions and mobilizing to bring about social change. By interacting with other groups in the larger society, including opponents and supporters of pecific changes, social movements should enhance the adaptive capacity of society by making it more flexible and capable of responding to underlying problems. We want to know if this “civic potential” is being realized in the case of the environmental movement.  We address this by examining the effects of the environmental movement on public policy, business practices and objective environmental problems over the last 100 years.  We focus on three major questions:

 

·        Does environmental mobilization and movement activity affect the adoption and implementation of government environmental policy and changes in business practices?

 

·        What changes in environmental quality have resulted from governmental actions and changes in business practices?

 

·        What impact has the environmental movement had on these changes in environmental quality?