Department of Sociology Environment and Politics
Brief History of Sociologists of Environment and Politics at WSU

Washington State University was a leading institution in the founding of environmental sociology in the 1970s and 1980s. The vision and framework for this new field of study are traceable to germinal articles published by WSU sociologists William Catton and Riley Dunlap. They pushed this line of inquiry from an incipient recognition that people care about the environment to a thoroughgoing critique of the social sciences for overlooking the intersection of the social and natural environments. They also challenged the social sciences to adapt theories and methods to better understand the coupling of human and ecological systems and the political arrangements that mediate that coupling. Other WSU faculty – Lewis Carter, Don Dillman, Lee Freese, William Freudenburg, Scott Frickel, Gregory Hooks, Andrew Jorgenson, Loren Lutzenhiser, Marvin Olsen, Eugene Rosa, James Short, David Sonnenfeld – moved the challenge forward and further solidified WSU’s identity as a world leader in this field.

Current Sociologists of Environment and Politics at WSU

Questions regarding the causes and consequences of social and ecological stability, change, rift, and inequality are at the heart of public debates regarding the coupling of human and ecological systems. Such questions are at the forefront of the research programs of our core and affiliated faculty in the environment and politics research cluster. The faculty are building upon a foundation established by early and prominent WSU sociologists and coalesce around the areas of environmental sociology, political sociology, and social movements while pursuing their specific interests in environment and politics.

Core Faculty

  • Jennifer Givens investigates factors that impact (1) environmental and social sustainability (e.g., carbon intensity of well-being) and (2) forms of environmental concern and action across nation-states. She also studies how these relationships change over time.
  • Emily Huddart Kennedy studies citizen engagement in environmental issues, ranging from private consumption decisions to participation in environmental social movements. She is particularly driven to understand whether pro-environmental consumption practices as embodied in local food movements, for example, can synthesize individual and collective approaches to social change.
  • Erik Johnson examines the causes, forms and consequences of mobilization around environmental protection issues in the United States and around the world. He is an established expert on the relationship between organizational and tactical diversity (i.e. protest vs. “insider” political activities) within the U.S. national environmental movement and federal public policy outcomes (i.e., agenda setting and law passage).
  • Raoul S. Liévanos is primarily concerned with the political, organizational, demographic, and spatial dynamics of environmental inequality in the United States. He connects this concern to broader questions about (1) the nature of state power and the sub-politics of environmental risk and race; and (2) the historical relationship between residential segregation, neighborhood-level risk of exposure to a variety of environmental benefits and burdens, and the organization of our political and economic system.

Affiliated Faculty

  • Jessica Goldberger studies agricultural knowledge, science, and technology in the United States and developing world. She is particularly interested in the sources of agricultural knowledge – from non-governmental organizations that share organic farming information with smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa to seed dealers who promote the latest agricultural biotechnology to farmers who actively engage in on-farm experimentation.