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Department of Sociology Environment, Technology, and Sustainability
Sociologists at WSU study society-environment interactions with an eye to identifying and evaluating solutions to ecological problems. Our areas of expertise are in environmental movements, local food movements, sustainable consumption, sustainable energy provision, rural livelihoods, and environmental concern.
ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY LAB

Due to a high level of interest from graduate students and faculty, our department has an active and
productive lab for scholars interested in Environmental Sociology and related fields. This “lab” is at
once a professional development resource (we practice conference talks, review each other’s
research, and conduct workshops on a wide range of subjects) and an opportunity to stay current on
cutting edge research. The lab also supports talks from scholars both within and outside of WSU. The
Environment and Society Lab is a terrific resource to help graduate students stay engaged, grow as
scholars, and collaborate with colleagues.

Core Faculty in Area

Selected Examples of Faculty Research in this Area:

CLIMATE PROTEST AND ITS EFFECTS

Does climate change protest really work? As part of a long-term project, Dr. Dylan Bugden is
exploring the intersection of protest, partisan polarization, and public opinion. Using nationwide
survey experiments, this project identifies how the politicization of climate activism shapes how
protest works to change public opinion, but also how protest deepens partisan polarization.

 

ENERGY CONSUMPTION AND THE ELECTRICITY GRID

Modernizing the electric grid to incorporate renewable energy while maintaining reliability is key to societal sustainability. Dr. Christine Horne is working on an NSF-funded project to assess the implications of increased dependence on Information and Communication Technology for the resilience of the electric grid. Further, Dr. Christine Horne  is collaborating with WSU engineers and computer scientists to identify factors that motivate consumer engagement with the energy delivery system.

Graduate Students:

Yikang Bai

 

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME
Description:

Environmental crime, virtually unheard of before 1970 when it was regularly accepted practice to dump (toxic) wastes directly into air, water and/or unlined pits as part of routine industrial activity, is now the focus of an Environmental Crimes Section at the US Department of Justice that employs some 40 full-time prosecutors (DOJ 2012). Yet scholars know surprisingly little about environmental crimes. Dr.s Erik Johnson and Jennifer Schwartz have initiated a collaborative project examining the population of criminally prosecuted environmental offenses from 1983-2010. We ask what is defined as serious environmental criminal acts and what are the characteristics of offenders, how those change over time, and how relevant cases compare to more commonly studied administrative and civil environmental violations as well as to other types of white collar crimes.

Faculty:


Erik Johnson

Jennifer Schwartz

Graduate Students:


Alana Inlow

Undergraduate student Christina Hubbard received an Undergraduate Summer Minigrant from the Washington State University College of Arts and Sciences in 2016 to work on this project. She presented the findings of her research on the “Effects of Poverty on Sentencing for Environmental Crimes” at the 2017 WSU research Showcase.

Selected Publications:
Johnson, Erik W., Alana R. Inlow, and Jennifer Schwartz. “The Most Serious Environmental Offenses Identified and Prosecuted by the Federal Government, 1982-2010.” Drafted in preparation for submission to Environmental Politics.
LOCAL IMPACTS OF DIGITAL INDUSTRIAL TECHNOLOGIES

Cryptocurrency has emerged as a controversial technology, both for its capacity (or not) to disrupt
industry, but also for its potential climate impacts. But cryptocurrency is just one of a new suite of
technological innovations that require large-scale industrial development to support digital
technologies. Others include blockchain more broadly, but also massive data centers that support
any number of web-based applications. Very little research, however, has identified how this form of
energy-intensive industrial development impacts local communities. In this project, Dr. Dylan
Bugden, in collaboration with Dr. Pierce Greenberg (Creighton University; WSU Sociology Alum) build
on decades of research on “extractive communities” to understand how a new industry is shaping
communities around the world.

 

RURAL-URBAN CONFLICTS IN ENERGY TRANSITIONS

The renewable energy transitions will most deeply impact rural communities. Rural places will
become sites of land use transformation as agriculture, energy production, and emerging carbon
sequestration technologies transform to reduce greenhouse has emissions. However, rural places
are not uniformly open to all possible technologies, and longstanding urban-rural divisions are likely
to exacerbate rural opposition. With funding from the Unites States Department of Agriculture, and
in conjunction with researchers are Cornell University, Dr. Dylan Bugden is using this project to
explore how the characteristics of rural-urban divisions can act as both barrier and bridge to a
national energy transition.

 

SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AND FOOD PRODUCTION

Understanding how and why people make decisions to produce food in low-impact, sustainable ways is key to influencing transitions away from large-scale, pesticide-intensive production. Dr. Jennifer Sherman works with a team of multidisciplinary researchers to understand pesticide use decisions in agriculture.

Graduate Students:

Jordan Burke

 

Selected Publications:

Sherman, Jennifer and David H. Gent. 2014. “Concepts of Sustainability, Motivations for Pest Management Approaches, and Implications for Communicating Change.” Plant Disease 98(8): 1024-1035.

Grant Activity:

Western Integrated Pest Management Center Competitive Grants Program, Co-Program Director, 2016. “Network Characteristics and Modeling of Powdery Mildew Spread: Foundations for Area-Wide IPM.” Grant total $30,000 for one year.
U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Co-Program Director, 2014-2018. “Reducing the Impact of Industry-Critical Insect and Disease Problems in Hops through Development of Preventive and Predictive Strategies.” Grant total: $3,169,180 for 4 years.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Co-Program Director, 2010-2014. “Agronomic, Biochemical, Social, and Economic Impacts of Biotic and Abiotic Stress on Pacific Northwest Flavor Crops.” Grant total $3.1 million over 5 years.
Regional Integrated Pest Management Competitive Grants Program Western Region, UC-Davis, Co-Program Director, 2010-2013. “IPM Adoption: Motivations, Barriers, and Subjective Risk Assessments in Contract Agriculture.” Grant total $179,168 over 3 years.