About me

Having grown up in California I decided I wanted to leave the state to go to college. I entered the University of Notre Dame in 1990 and was the beneficiary of good fortune my sophomore year when I randomly drew Sociology Professor Andrew Weigert, or Andy as he preferred his students call him, as instructor for my section of a College-wide core course called “Self, Society and Values.” Andy asked questions I had never contemplated, particularly about the human relationship to the natural world. 

Around this time I stumbled on the periodicals section of the university’s library and discovered a journal called Environmental Ethics. I was reading debates on the intrinsic vs. instrumental value of nature, strong vs. weak anthropocentrism, and deep ecology vs. ecofeminism. Studying environmental sociology in graduate school seemed like a natural fit, even though Andy’s symbolic interactionist perspective on human-environment interaction, which had been my introduction to the subfield of the discipline, was rare among the more macro-theoretical orientations dominating the subfield. 

In the fall of 1994 my father drove with me from Southern California to Pullman, Washington where I began work towards my PhD at Washington State University. I quickly identified a masters thesis topic–the “ecological self” as manifested in participants in the deep ecology movement–and advanced to PhD candidacy in 1996. At the beginning of 1997, I moved to Portland, Oregon to begin dissertation research on the ecological identities, or lack thereof, and environmental values of people who were exploring a renewal of the “voluntary simplicity” movement of 25 years earlier. I finished my dissertation in just over a year, and accepted a job offer at Providence College in Rhode Island.

I met my wife, Marion, who had recently graduated with a MFA in Ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design, while living in Providence. In Providence I also connected with Phil Brown, who worked across town at Brown University. Phil’s work on the leukemia cluster in Woburn, Massachusetts, which was published in a book with Edwin Mikkelsen called No Safe Place, provided a groundbreaking look not just into community mobilization in response to contamination, but also into the struggles of laypeople to make empirical connections between health conditions and contamination.

I began working with Phil on a project examining breast cancer, asthma, and Gulf War-related illnesses, and the forms of activism engaged in by individuals working to make connections between these conditions and environmental factors. For three years I worked with Phil and a number of his students in what came to be known as the Contested Illnesses Research Group.

Also while at Providence College, I began collaborating with Stuart Shulman, who was then an adjunct professor in the Political Science Department. Together with another political scientist, David Schlosberg, we launched a couple of NSF-funded projects to study the use of the Internet to facilitate public participation in environmental decision-making. The research experience I gained working on both of these projects lead me to my current job at the University of San Francisco.

I have been at USF since the Fall of 2002, receiving tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in the Spring of 2005 and then promotion to Full Professor in 2014. In my first three years at USF, I experienced the death of my father and the birth of both of my children, Claire in 2002 and Luc in 2004. Returning from a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award in India in the middle of 2006, I stepped into a three-year term as Chair of both the Sociology Department and the Environmental Studies Program and, resumed as Co-Chair of Environmental Studies from 2012-2015, and Chaired once again as part of a sabbatical replacement in 2020-21.

Please visit my research and teaching pages where I describe the evolution of my work as a scholar and educator.

Photo Credit: Deborah Ford

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