Honors Introduction to Sociology, Globalization, and Upcycling!

As part of their enrichment experience this semester, Honors Introduction to Sociology students entered into a raffle to win three pairs of “upcycled” jeans made by And Again!  Their jeans were all made from used pairs and are unique, tailor made to order by Morgan Young and Greg Harder, owner/operators of And Again.  The jeans reflect students’ effort to “de-fetishize the commodity” and intervene in the global impact of new and used fast fashion.  Thanks also to Greg and Morgan for their informative lecture that connected their work to our book Clothing Poverty, by Andrew Brooks.  Read this brief piece from Honors student Victoria Dellacava on the exciting activity!

Environment and Health Creates a Blog!

In the fall 2016 semester, students in SOCI 335 Environment and Health were required to create their own blog.  Each student’s blog contained websites that provide the public with an online, geo-spatial mapping
tool for visualizing environmental burdens. The sites they selected were diverse, and all allowed users to map environmental burdens and hazards of some sort (e.g., brownfields, hazardous waste sites, flood zones, etc.), across a wide geographic area.  Additionally, the students created a map using each site, showcasing the capabilities of each one.  Each student presented their blog to the rest of the class and described its use, data, intended audience, and its role in citizen-science social movements.  A few examples from the class are below!

Alanna’s work on Chester, PA:

“The official site of Chester County, PA, http://chesco.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=ff27843bd5a5431388d2df6d59534e47 has included the data in an interactive map. When the website first loads, you have many tabs to explore through, including Resources In The Area, Watersheds, Impaired Waters, Protected Water Uses, FEMA Flood Plains, Soil, and How You Can Help…Once you click on the Impaired Waters tab, you can then look at different areas of Chester County, where the website has color-coded the different rivers that are in the county. The red water sources represent at least one impairment listed in the water in 2014, and blue representing the water sources that do actually meet the water quality standards.”

Katy’s work on Brooklyn, NY:

“The last map I found was the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth’s mapping initiative for the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg (Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, 2015) . The map is very easy to use but uses geographic terms such as layers and basemap, allowing for you to manipulate it to see other environmental risks and demographics of the area. It maps spills, remediated sites, routes for trucks, flood risk, and trash sites. In the about the data section, it gives more information on what each layer means, how and who calculates it, and what implications it has for health, pollution, and noise. The site is overall a very powerful exploratory tool, and I imagine it can be used by people across all different education levels. The map data is sourced from OpenStreetMap and has many contributors for the data, manipulation, and research.”


Lauren’s work on Ocean City, MD:

“Another great tool for involved and curious community members is the Surging Seas Risk Finder found on the Climate Central Organization ’s website. This site is multifaceted in that it offers several different visuals displaying the areas and people most at risk for flooding. Also, the site does a nice job getting its audience just concerned enough to take action, but not over worried about their town being flooded. I feel that the intended audience is people in their mid 20s to late 50s because it is simple enough for most people interested in sea level rise to do general research. The site provides a background of why sea level rise is occurring and puts it  into perspective for the selected town, in my case Ocean City. There is a color-coded map of Ocean City available that shows the low to high sea-level rise vulnerability, a bar graph showing the multi-year risk of flooding over five feet from now to 2100, another bar graph showing the increase in coastal flood days from 1955-2014, and a map displaying how many total residents of the town(s) of and surrounding Ocean City are safe by using “ below 5ft ” as a parameter (2). For instance, as of 2010 the total 4,035 people of Ocean City are below the 5 feet although other maps may vary slightly in data (2). As I said, this site does a good job calling people to action to  advocate for practice to delay climate change without scaring them in the process.”


On the “Limitations of Measurement”

In environmental (in)justice communities, a major obstacle is the disparity between what scientific measurement can assess and the community’s embodied experiences with environmental burdens (see Brown and colleagues’ work on this for decades).  Additionally, the use of thresholds, geographically static measures of exposure and environmental pollution, and selective point assessments create what I call the “limitations of measurement.”  A sociologically and environmentally powerful citizen-science tool to address the “limitations of measurement” is the wearable Airbeam, which measures pollution and makes powerful visual displays of what people in a polluted community are literally breathing in.

Climate Change, EJ, and Social Movements

A current thrust of my research involves pressing the issue that climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, will disproportionately impact communities of color with environmental (in)justice issues and environmental hazards.  In short, whatever environmental hazards and burdens a community faces – and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these hazards – they will be exacerbated by climate change impacts.  The move to mitigate environmental burdens must also involve appropriate, equitable, and just climate change adaptation measures.

Read this recent Vox piece on how the broader environmental movement is diversifying, and why this creates a “more compelling” case for environmentalism.  In conjunction with all the local work done by people of color in their own communities for decades, and the continuing outreach and commitment to climate change awareness in these communities by a diverse co-operative of organizations and individuals, we can move forward to a more equitable future of cleaned up communities and climate resilient regions.

Using Innovative Technology to Teach Environmental Equity

In my classes, I strive to incorporate technology to teach sociological concepts, such as environmental equity and environmental racism, in innovative and insightful ways.  I often use PolicyMap to demonstrate the utility of sociological concepts and get students started down a path of richer, more in-depth, and nuanced analysis for the issues they are passionate about.  Check out the recent webinar I gave as part of PolicyMap’s “Mapchats” on the use of the program to examine local brownfields, environmental racism, and brownfield revitalization in South Wilmington.  Not only can students “see” the utility of sociological concepts through maps, but how these maps provide a penetrating analytical lens on important social, and local, issues that play out in “space.”

Here’s a bit more on PolicyMap and the webinar:

“PolicyMap is currently being used in over 90 universities across the country to produce research insights, to serve as a supplemental resource for students and to facilitate learning in the classroom. As data and data visualization become increasingly important in decision-making, it is more critical than ever that students in a variety of fields understand how to work with data and analytical tools.

PolicyMap’s popular Mapchats webinar series returns to the classroom on April 21st from 2:00 – 3:00 pm with a panel of educators from leading universities who will discuss how they incorporate PolicyMap into their curriculum. Hear from Dr. Anne Hewitt of the School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall University discuss how her students use PolicyMap to analyze vulnerable populations in her course entitled Managing Community and Population Health Systems. And Dr. Victor Perez, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Delaware, will talk about how he incorporates PolicyMap into his courses to help students understand topics such as the geography of environmental injustice.”

Lights, Camera, Earth!

The film series Lights, Camera, Earth! is in full swing.  On March 22nd, I’ll be the discussion leader for the film Two Square Miles. “Residents of the historic town of Hudson, New York, take sides when a multinational company expresses interest in building a large cement plant near the town.”  In sociology, we refer to these critical divisions in communities as “blue-green” issues, where environmental preservation and economic development are seen as at odds by community members, resulting in internal conflicts.  Come out to the film March 22nd!

Two Square Miles

All films are free and open to the public. The Lights, Camera, EARTH! film series is co-sponsored by the Delaware Environmental Institute and the College of Arts and Sciences Environmental Humanities Program. For more information, visit the film series webpage.