Date of Award

Summer 9-24-2022

Document Type

Thesis (Ph.D.)

Department or Program

Ecology, Evolution, Environment and Society

First Advisor

Laura Ogden


Environmental justice (EJ) has become a central framework for historically marginalized communities in the United States to identify unequal exposure to environmental harm. Yet, what once began as a radical social movement challenge to different forms of environmental racism has been taken-up by a wide swathe of civil society across diverse political, cultural, and ecological landscapes. In particular, river restoration efforts – and the many communities they implicate – are emerging as key sites of political-ecological interventions that are central to EJ. However, not all river restoration efforts employ EJ as a guiding framework. Through this dissertation, I ask: how do shifting configurations of race and socioeconomic class shape how communities recognize and redress environmental harm? Accordingly, I ethnographically compare two distinct communities as they navigate the landscapes of risk and repair along the banks of two ecologically significant rivers in the Puget Sound estuary. By drawing on 18 months of ethnographic research that includes participant-observation, semi-structured interviews, oral histories, as well as historical and archival research, I analyze the identity formations of communities implicated in river restoration efforts. I conclude that political and cultural identity influenced by place-based histories ultimately shapes how communities recognize and respond to environmental harm.