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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.


Core Faculty in Area

Selected Examples of Faculty Research in this Area:


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 and Dr. Emily Kennedy are collaborating with WSU engineers and computer scientists to identify factors that motivate consumer engagement with the energy delivery system.

Graduate Students:

Brice Darras, PhD Dissertation: Unequal Resilience: Failures of the Electric Grid across Sociodemographic Space

Lauren Scott, PhD Dissertation: Resilience of the Electric Grid: The Implications of Getting “Smarter”

Yikang Bai



Food is intimately tied to social and ecological systems. Dr. Emily Kennedy is working on a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to better understand the production and consumption of ethical meat. Dr. Kennedy has also studied the local food movement, identifying the motivations behind people’s choice to take part in the leadership of local food initiatives, and the cultural politics of eat-local movements.

Related Funding, Presentations, & Publications:

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Insight Grant. Consuming Meat: A Study of Taste, Risk and Food Politics. [PI: Dr. Josée Johnston]. (2015-2020)

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Insight Development Grant. $70,235. (2013-2016)

Kennedy, E.H., J. Parkins, and J. Johnston. Forthcoming. Evaluating the democratic imagination of citizen-consumer practices: Comparative insights from eat-local movements. Journal of Consumer Culture. Published online DOI: 10.1177/1469540516659125.

Kennedy, E.H. 2016. Environmental evaporation: The invisibility of environmental concern in food system change. Environmental Sociology, 2(1):18-28.

Kessler, A.J., J.R. Parkins, and E.H. Kennedy. 2016. Environmental harm and the “good farmer”: Understanding narratives of environmental stewardship in the face of climate change. Rural Sociology 81(2):172-193.



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:

Ashley Colby, PhD Dissertation: “Structures and Meanings in Subsistence Food Production: A Pluralistic, Horizontal, Post-Capitalist Social Movement in the Global North”

Rebekah Torcasso, PhD Dissertation: “The Peasant’s Way or the American Way? Resisting the Social Reorganization of Agriculture within the US Context”

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.


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.


Erik Johnson

Jennifer Schwartz

Graduate Students:

Joseph Kremer: PhD dissertation: Environmental Sentencing Disparities in the U.S. Pacific Northwest 2007-2011: A Story of Equality? Joseph is now an assistant professor of sociology at Luther College

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:

In progress