I am interested in interactions between human society, the economy, and the nonhuman environment, and how social systems create and respond to environmental problems. As a sociologist, I study who benefits and suffers from environmental pollution, how people understand their relationships to nature, and how groups mobilize around environmental issues. I engage with environmental, political, economic, and cultural sociology together with interdisciplinary fields of political ecology, and science and technology studies to examine micro- and macro-level processes.
My research is focused on relationships between the labor and environmental movements and class differences in environmentalism. In my current project, I examine conflicts over proposed copper mining in a rural region of Minnesota to understand how decisions over environmentally hazardous development are connected to broader rural-urban conflicts and right-wing populism, and the political, economic and scientific factors that shape environmental policy-making.
Contested Politics of Resource Extraction
In a book manuscript developed from my dissertation research, I ask how a seemingly uncontroversial issue – new mines in a mining region – becomes contentious, and why some communities embrace development of polluting industry while others oppose. I examine these questions through the case of controversial proposed copper mining projects in the Northern Minnesota Iron Range – a region indicative of resource dependent communities. I advance environmental sociology by drawing on theories of place, collective memory, and political ecology, while also showing that political and cultural sociology need to consider relationships to nature and the dynamics of bio-physical processes.
A major theme in my scholarship is the relationships between the economy, work, and nature. I have used multiple methodologies to investigate how and why workers and environmentalists clash and collaborate, and how class, gender, and race shape environmentalism. In an article in The Sociological Quarterly, my co-authors and I found that union members expressed similar, and at times greater, concern for environmental protection than non-union members – results that challenge common assumptions about working class environmentalism. I then wanted to know how and why these attitudes form, and the political implications. Towards this goal, I conducted discourse analysis of news articles about the Keystone XL pipeline controversy in a Critical Sociology article, finding that media framing made conflict between unions and environmentalist appear common sense, silencing collaboration. In an article for The Journal of Workplace Rights, I investigated how unions and environmentalists form cross-movement coalitions through participatory action research on a campaign to promote local food and workers’ rights.