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Erik Johnson Lab Site Environmental Movements

Lauren Scott (a WSU graduate student in sociology) and I have an article forthcoming in the journal Environmental Sociology that celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Environment and Technology section of the ASA through an examination of publications in four high visibility general sociology journals. In the article (“From fringe to core”) we assess the progression of environmental sociology from academic social movement to part of the disciplinary core. Our central finding is that environmental sociologists increasing focus on questions of race/class/gender stratification was critical to fostering acceptance within the wider discipline of research on bio-physical and societal interactions. We also trace some additional research trends over the period (such as the large increase in cross-national and multi-national research). If you are interested in a list of the articles we included in our sample for analysis it can be found here. This would make a good starting point for graduate students studying for comprehensive exams!


I am interested in the the emergence, development, and outcomes of environmental movements in the United States and other nations. Historical research on the environmental movement is dominated by case studies and qualitative-historical accounts. My quantitatively focused historical analyses, relying on an original and high-quality time-series dataset with information on 862 national environmental movement organizations (EMOs) between 1965 and 2003, provides a unique understanding of the contours of the movement’s development over time.

I am interested in the changing issue arenas that constitute the environmental movement. I have examined the changing constellation of issues that are attended to by “major” US environmental organizations, documenting the shift from traditional issues of conservation and wildlife protection to the post 60’s focus on issues of pollution and human health (Johnson 2006 Rural sociology). Importantly, this work also demonstrates the extent to which conservation organizations continue to dominate the environmental movement . Analyses of organizational founding rates in my more extensive data, published in Social Problems with Scott Frickel, demonstrate more broadly how the environmental movement continues to be dominated by traditional concerns with wilderness and wildlife conservation. Theoretically, we help to refine long held assumptions in the environmental arena about the link between ecological degradation and environmental activism by showing that different segments of the movement were responsive to different environmental degradation cues. We also demonstrate the broader utility of the threat concept for strengthening theories of social movement mobilization.

My research on the political outcomes of the environmental movements shows that different mechanisms of influence (e.g. protest, lobbying) variously impact stages across the policy-making process (e.g., legislative hearings, bill passage). Environmental movements, like other social movements, more readily influence federal agenda setting activities (i.e. legislative hearings) than they do the more consequential bill passage stage, where influence is highly contingent and dependent on the confluence of multiple factors often beyond the control of social movements. My work shows that the size of the environmental movement has strong effects on legislative attention to environmental issues, as measured by legislative hearings on the environment, but no significant direct effects on the passage of actual legislation. I find that a diversity of issues interests within the movement and a diversity of tactics adopted by the movement (i.e. BOTH lobbying and direct actions), is associated with both greater attention and law passage. In other words, diversity in the environmental movement DOES matter for actual law passage in a direct way… while size only has indirect effects. This research can be found in Social Forces here (Johnson 2008) and here (Johnson Agnone and McCarthy 2010).

I have also published on the organizational demography of the Japanese environmental movement (Johnson, 2009) and the interplay between US and transnational environmental movement mobilization (Johnson and McCarthy 2005)