Home > Students > Congratulations to Dr. Seth Gustafson!

Congratulations to Dr. Seth Gustafson!

March 22, 2014

I am very pleased to congratulate Seth Gustafson on having just successfully defended his Ph.D. Dissertation that is entitled “Urban Political Ecology and Exurban Environmental Knowledge in Post-2008 Southern Appalachia.”

Seth’s project will no doubt push the boundaries of urban political ecology in important ways.

Also, many thanks to his research committee members Drs. Jennifer L. Rice, Steve Holloway, Josh Barkan and Ted Gragson.

Abstract:

This dissertation draws on urban political economy, urban political ecology, and science
studies to examine the social and environmental consequences of urbanization in historically
rural areas, especially the driving influences prompting new rounds of urban development in the
countryside and as how communities draw upon different forms of knowledge to address the
socioenvironmental burdens and benefits of exurban growth. More specifically, the dissertation
examines how the 2008 financial crisis impacted the politics of environmental knowledge and
uneven development in exurban southern Appalachia. I draw on my diverse training in
qualitative methods of archival work, interviews, and participant observation; quantitative
examination of parcel-level tax data and other socio-economic and socio-ecological data; and
spatial analysis using GIS. The case study I use is a local policy controversy in Macon County,
North Carolina, regarding the regulation of steep mountain slope development to prevent
landslides. This economically peripheral region experienced rapid urban growth from 1960-
2008 but lacked state regulatory or civil society capacity to address the economic,
environmental, and social upheaval resulting from the decades of growth and the post-2008
crisis. With varying degrees of success, local residents had long attempted to mitigate landslides
and other negative environmental externalities of urban growth in their historically rural area, but
did so only under the auspices of massive capital investment via residential construction. I show
that as the financial crisis constricted this influx of capital, it intersected with attitudes toward
expert geological knowledge and non-expert knowledge of the landscape, thereby thwarting
attempts to mitigate landslide vulnerability.

KEY WORDS: urban metabolism, urban political ecology, uneven development,
environmental knowledge, Coweeta LTER, southern Appalachia