Jordan Fox Besek
University of Oregon
Title: “On the Logics of Investigating Social and Ecological Change: From the Asian Carp Invasion to the Reversal of the Chicago River”
Committee: Richard York (chair), John Bellamy Foster, James Elliott, Marsha Weisiger
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Title: “The Social Order of Collective Action: The Wisconsin Uprising of 2011”
Committee: Erik Olin Wright (chair), Ivan Ermakoff, Alice Goffman, Pamela Oliver
While sociologists have developed robust theoretical frameworks for explicating how various social processes negatively impact the environment, few have incorporated how environmental change may create instability amongst social processes. Consequently, non-human processes often enter into sociological analysis as passive objects to be instrumentally acted upon, as opposed to active participants in social worlds. In this dissertation, I develop a theoretical framework geared toward examining the reciprocal complexity of socio-environmental change, as opposed to how the social impacts the environmental. The foundation for this framework is Robert Park’s incorporation of the concept of succession from ecology, a concept built for investigating how interactions construct events that simultaneously change the processes in interaction while producing novel contexts. Highlighting succession’s potential for focusing on shifting multi-scalar, material interactions, I apply the succession framework to the introduction of Asian carp, a potentially destructive invasive species that threatens to enter into the Great Lakes through the Chicago River and has, as a result, set into motion considerable contestations across political, cultural, and scientific social processes. Throughout, I demonstrate how the successional interplay between the social and the environmental structure the processes through which the Asian carp invasion operates.
The Wisconsin Uprising of 2011 was one of the largest sustained collective actions in United States history. Drawing on insider participant-observation, extensive in-depth interviews, documentary analysis, and digital archiving, this project investigates how an unplanned collective action achieved a high degree of internal social order and strategic coherence. This dissertation in development makes at least three specific contributions to social theory. First, it introduces the concept of escalating moral obligation, a relational mechanism showing how commitment to collective action increases as others endure difficulties on behalf of the same cause. Second, it identifies non-hierarchical forms of organization that simultaneously provided a focal point for an initially disorganized crowd and incorporated normally marginalized people into meaningful leadership, notably youth. Third, as an un-planned assembly of many unaffiliated people that created a mutual moral community, this event illuminates the sources of collective effervescence in a way few other cases can, showing that pre-existing group affiliation is not a necessary condition for effervescence to emerge. The dissertation should be of interest to theorists, social movement scholars, political sociologists, cultural sociologists, youth scholars, and sociologists of emotion, among others.