I am a scholar of environmental sociology, with a focus on the links between culture, place, and economic change, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interrogates the relationship between the mobility of capital and the relative stability of social life. Through qualitative and archival research, I ask how historical structures of capitalism–social, spatial, and economic–inform localized outcomes and lived experiences of home, community, and environment. Specifically, I am interested in how place-based, working-class communities adapt to globalizing economies and changing environments over time–from farmers and consumers, to urban steelworkers and rural iron miners. I analyze processes and trajectories of economic history, lived experiences of cultural negotiation, landscape-scale change spanning rural and urban regions, and political economies of growth and decline.
My substantive interest is rooted in my childhood, growing up in a former coal mining village in Pennsylvania’s Appalachian foothills. When the waterways ran orange from iron oxide mine waste, I saw how the vestiges of capitalism continued to shape familiar landscapes, even decades after the mines were closed. Then, as stores closed and friends outmigrated, I felt the confusion and frustration of local people who wished to stay in place but found their hometown emptied of jobs, grocery stores, doctors, and habitable houses. More than two generations after the last coal was lifted from the earth, the economic and environmental histories of my home region continue to shape the structures, infrastructures, and cultural identities of long-term residents.
My research always aims to situate the stories people tell about their places and their people within patterns of macroeconomic transformation. My qualitative field work has taken me from homesteads in Swaziland, to kitchen tables in dairyland Wisconsin, to red-dirt roads post-war northern Uganda, and most recently, to urban and rural Rust Belt communities.
These communities are participants in their own knowledge creation. I design and disseminate research using methods and mediums that are transparent, accessible, and theoretically engaged. I pair academic publications from my research with podcasts, photography, and long-form essays to connect stakeholders’ experiences with broader patterns of historical, cultural, and spatial change. Review my publications and methodologies pages for more details on this public sociology.
As a teacher, I aim to illuminate structural patterns of injustice, giving voice to underrepresented communities, and encouraging students to pursue thoughtful strategies for social change and engagement. My courses tend to center on processes of globalization–from the birds-eye view of agricultural commodity chains, to the localized experiences of laborers and consumers. I design courses not only with substantive aims, but with skill-building in mind: I integrate question-asking, research, writing, and public speaking into each class. Review my past syllabi or classroom exercises to learn more about my commitment to teaching.