My research program explores the relationship between environmental policy and democracy in the United States. I work in the traditions of American Political Development and political theory, bridging historical and theoretical approaches to American politics.
My current book project, The Parties’ Environment: Partisanship and Environmental Political Development from Theodore Roosevelt to the Reagan Revolution, explores the role of partisanship in shaping environmental policy in the U.S. While scholars have documented the divisive partisan split on environment from the Reagan administration to the present, much less is known about the historical antecedents of this contemporary partisan polarization. Focused on the period 1901-1980, my project uses archival research to show how political partisans—both in government and in party structures—forged their environmental ideologies and translated these ideologies into policies and political institutions. Contrary to the idea of a mid-century bipartisan environmental consensus, I argue that there are historical differences between the Republican and Democratic parties’ approaches to environment. While the Democratic party committed to environmental protection in the mid-1950s and never retreated, contemporary Republican antagonism to the environment can be traced back to early twentieth century conservative hostility to government regulation. Concomitantly, the project examines the ideological and institutional transition within the federal government from conservation, advanced by the Theodore Roosevelt administration, to environmentalism in the 1960s. I argue that environmental political development comprised two tracks in the early twentieth century—natural resource management and public health—that fused in the idea of environmentalism that emerged in the 1960s. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations played a crucial role in this ideological shift and in laying the groundwork for extensive federal interventions in environmental protection in the 1970s.
My research challenges the prevailing narrative of environmental political development in two ways. First, it rebuts the notion of a mid-century bipartisan consensus on environmental protection by offering a more nuanced historical account that pinpoints the roots of partisan environmental conflict. Second, contrary to the idea that environmental policies were the result of public pressure—most obvious in the Earth Day celebration of 1970—this account reveals the elite-driven nature of environmental policy developments in the decades prior to 1970. Finally, this research speaks to our current political moment by historically situating contemporary partisan polarization on the environment.
My dissertation examined the theory and practice of environmental collaborative governance, bringing together American Political Development approaches to U.S. environmental policy and law, normative democratic theory, and American pragmatist philosophy. Environmental collaborative governance is a form of policymaking that centers on citizen engagement in crafting policy solutions to local environmental problems. Both policy practitioners and scholars have lauded environmental collaborative governance as an innovative form of policymaking that promises a more democratic process and better environmental outcomes. But, there is little consensus as to how the process of collaboration works to overcome deeply rooted disagreements about natural resources management. Theories of deliberative democracy provide an account of deliberation (the core of collaboration) that identifies rational argumentation as key to facilitating agreement. However, accounts from participants in collaboration tell a different story. To understand the history and micropolitics of collaborative governance I analyze a collaborative experiment in national forest management in California, the Quincy Library Group. I mobilize first-hand and practitioner accounts of the collaborative process in Quincy to shed light on the limitations of the prevailing model of deliberation, and I utilize theoretical resources from American pragmatist philosophy to reconceptualize deliberation as embodied, narrative, and oriented to experimental problem-solving. I argue that collaboration is centrally about members of a community working together across difference to solve shared concrete problems. Rational argument plays a role in collaboration, but it is not its transformatory engine. Rather, the building of trust between participants through narrative and storytelling is what enables transformation of beliefs and interests and makes collaboration possible. This new theoretical grounding for collaborative environmental governance not only allows us to better make sense of collaboration in practice, it also provides a non-ideal normative grounding for collaborative governance that emerges out of practice and provides guidance for strengthening these efforts on the ground. It points us to institutional designs that privilege inclusive participation, mediation that encourages participants to articulate their values, interests and, understanding of the problem in terms of their personal experiences, and ongoing community engagement about the problem and implemented solutions.
My future research project will examine American agriculture as a site of contestation over the meaning of American democracy. The inspiration for this project grew out of teaching food politics and my experience living in Eugene, Oregon, one of the most food-conscious cities in the country. American agriculture has undergone extraordinary changes over the twentieth century. A full picture of these changes comprises three interlocking parts: the development of federal agricultural policy, the corporatization and consolidation of the agricultural sector, and the increasing disconnection of American citizens to agricultural production. These three shifts seem to present a deterministic picture of Americans slowly ceding the ability to shape the place of food in their lives—what I call food agency—over the past century. But the narrative driven by macro changes is only one side of the story. Against this historical context of increasingly technocratic federal intervention, consolidation of corporate power, and alienation of citizens from agriculture, we can find, throughout American history, moments of push-back in which citizen groups endeavor to reclaim the ability to make decisions about their relationships to food. In addition to providing a rich historical narrative about these developments, this project will examine how these developments have enacted a politics of diminishing democracy that has generated political resistance. Concretely, these moments of resistance and re-articulation of food democracy manifest in, for example, Agrarian Populism centered in the Plains states at the end of the 19th century, the People’s Park in Berkeley, CA in the late 1960s, and the urban farming movement in American cities like Detroit in the 2000s. In these moments of contestation, we can see a historical dialogue about the place of agriculture in American democracy in response to overarching trends of bureaucratization, consolidation, and alienation. This dialogue about the theory and practice of American agriculture and its place in American life is a space in which the ideal of agrarian democracy is contested, reimagined, enacted, and transformed, and, I argue, it provides a window into the workings of American democracy writ large. Methodologically, this project will utilize archival research and interpretive discourse analysis to examine how historical and contemporary food movements have constructed alternative visions of agrarian democracy in the face of large-scale agricultural change.