Environmental Justice & Inequality

My environmental research brings together diverse sociological and social science traditions to ask questions about how environmental inequalities are created and challenged.

Under review

Shifting terrains: soils and environmental risk perception following floods

Soil represents an understudied risk environment that can be detrimental to disaster survivors’ physical, mental, and social health. Previous research suggests that flooding can mobilize and redeposit contaminants, such as E. coli and heavy metals, in residential soils where exposure can pose risk to human health. However, few studies have examined how survivors understand and navigate post-disaster environmental health risks. Using a novel research design that combines residential soil testing with semi-structured interviews, this study analyzes environmental health risk perception in the post-disaster context to better understand how residents perceive and respond to environmental health risks.

In revision

Water justice and the symbolic mobilization of rurality in natural resource conflicts

Research on water justice show that rural residents in the US are disproportionately burdened with insecure and unsafe water supplies, yet few environmental justice studies link these rural problems to urban practices. Using a historical case study approach, this study asks how the construction of socio-spatial boundaries during natural resource conflicts contributes to urban-rural environmental inequalities. Analysis shows that urban elite symbolically mobilized rurality in a way that supported urban growth and development, allowing cities to claim greater control over regional water resources. These findings have important implications for understanding spatialized forms of environmental inequality.


Settler colonialism and rural environmental injustice: water inequality on the Navajo Nation, Rural Sociology

Environmental justice research highlights the distinct processes generating environmental problems in rural places. Rural communities of color suffer the dual disadvantage of spatial and racial marginalization, yet we know little about the role of race and racism within rural environmental inequality formation. This study draws on theories of settler colonialism and rural environmental justice to investigate the historical formation of water inequality in the American Southwest…


Agrochemical exposure & environmental illness: legal repression of Latin American banana workers, The Sociological Quarterly

Prior research on legal repression shows how elites use criminal law to demobilize collective challenges, yet social control efforts based in civil law have received inadequate attention. In this study, we develop the concept of elite legal framing to examine how corporations deploy “soft” forms of repression within the civil justice system. Drawing on court, government, and media documents, we analyze a series of transnational civil litigation cases over pesticide exposure on Dole-contracted banana plantations in Nicaragua. Results highlight how the corporate defendants promoted a corruption narrative that diffused through the media and legal system to successfully discredit farmworker claims.


Petrochemical pollution and the suppression of environmental protest, Sociological Inquiry

While research has established how elite actors can work to protect structures that contribute to environmental harm, relatively less is known about the cultural resources that can serve elite interests at the local level. In cases of localized pollution, multiple groups have vested interests in protecting corporate legitimacy. We draw on treadmill of production theory and collective identity to analyze a case of community petrochemical contamination. Specifically, we asked: (1) how elite actors appropriated cultural resources to protect productivity following a legitimization crisis; and (2) how discursive retaliation matters in understanding the pathways to violence when protest threatens an industrial community’s economic identity…


Media and ‘undone science’ in West Virginia’s Elk River chemical spill, Environmental Sociology

In January 2014, a storage tank in Charleston, West Virginia leaked 10,000 gallons of an industrial coal-cleansing chemical called ‘crude MCHM’ into the Elk River, poisoning the water supply of 300,000 residents. During the ensuing water crisis, conflict quickly developed over the risks of chemical exposure. Few studies on crude MCHM existed, leaving large knowledge gaps about the potential health consequences for residents in the affected area. This study utilizes newsprint coverage of the water crisis to analyze the media’s role in environmental and scientific disputes. Specifically, I examine how news actors can influence scientific knowledge production during times of crisis…