Miller Center

Caroline Lee

Sociology, University of California, San Diego

Compromising Natures: Moral Economies of Environmental Decision Making

Lee photo

Caroline Lee is Associate Professor of Sociology at Lafayette College.

Lee is a comparative institutional sociologist with research and teaching interests in the following areas: political sociology, social movements, economic sociology, law and society, sociology of knowledge and culture, urban and environmental sociology, and research methods. Her work is located in the broader multidisciplinary field of American political development.

Lee's dissertation explored obstacles to civic engagement in local environmental politics. Lee compared a spectrum of conservation decision-making bodies in three different U.S. communities to find that the devolved public deliberation formats heralded by researchers over the last 10 years have in fact encouraged Balkanization and allegations of exclusion. On the other hand, informal partnerships between national environmental organizations and local elites have brokered unlikely alliances that involve reluctant stakeholders in habitat restoration, even in politically conservative communities. These public-private partnerships, which Lee called "conservation machines," increase participation by minimizing contention with local growth networks and generating manifold opportunities for public input. Lee hypothesized that the national environmental interest groups that critics malign as out of touch with the grassroots have played important backstage roles encouraging power sharing on the ground in select communities. She argued that these outcomes suggest that political theorists should reconsider the idealization of deliberation and the presumed sources of civic alienation.

Fellowship year: 2006

Mentor: Mark Landy, Boston College

Selected Recent Publications

Do-it-Yourself Democracy: The Rise of the Public Engagement Industry. (Oxford University Press, 2015)

ed. with Michael McQuarrie, and Edward T. Walke Democratizing Inequalities: Dilemmas of the New Public Participation. (New York: NYU Press, 2015)

"Democracy's New Discipline: Public Deliberation as Organizational Strategy." with Zachary Romano, Organization Studies 34, no. 5-6 (April 22, 2013):733-753.

"Hard Times, Hard Choices': Marketing Retrenchment as Civic Empowerment in an Era of Neoliberal Crisis." with Kelly McNulty and Sarah Shaffer, Socio-Economic Review 11, no. 1, (September 21, 2012):81-106.

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