Friday, August 8, 2014

"We're pretty good at doing stuff"

I tutor Sociology at Colorado State University, and the question I receive most frequently from my forlorn students is "uuuhhhhh, why does Sociology even matter?" This has become my favorite question, because the answer is simpler than you would expect...

Because it's everywhere It's there when you tie your shoes in the morning, when you excuse yourself to go to the restroom, and as I tell my students, it's one of the reasons you're sitting here at a university.

And as you would guess, it is also in the Red Cedar Basin!

The way we perceive our social environment and the way we connect with our community matters. More specifically, social capital (the amount of empowerment, efficacy, participation, and trust one has within a community) matters.

This program has showed me that studying Environmental Sociology definitely matters, and reminds me why I became so passionate about it in the first place. If we are to find solutions to environmental problems, we must first understand how we, as a society and community, view these problems and are able to utilize our community to create lasting solutions. 

Over the past 8 weeks, I have been studying the social network of people most closely associated with water quality policy in the Red Cedar Basin.  Not only have I studied who is connected to who, but I have studied what values each of these individuals have.  There was a large amount of data collected, and many stories that could be told. 

I chose to focus on how the amount of social capital each of these individuals had influenced their views or expectations of a leader.  Our findings show that the type of social capital an individual has is significantly correlated with valuing some leadership qualities over others.    

Furthermore, through survey responses we were able to conclude that those with higher diverse social capital attended farm field days and other similar events more frequently, and those with higher leadership social capital planned these types of events more frequently.  As seen in the chart to the left, these two groups are less likely to select empowerment as one of the most important characteristic in a leader.  Instead, these individuals value good listening or communication skills. While this is an important characteristic, putting farmers in leadership roles and empowering them may be the most important way to have a more cohesive form of policy implementation. 

How individuals within this social network prioritize leadership attributes matter and may influence the way policy implementation is conducted in the Red Cedar Basin. A social network that is more inclusive to all actors within the watershed could lead to more effective policy implementation and a greater understanding of the local environment. I hope to continue this research further and establish an even greater understanding of how these different types of social capital influence a variety of environmental and community behaviors.

My final blog post as a student of this REU is dedicated to Nels Paulson, my fantastic mentor (without whom I could never have accomplished as much as I did and who will probably never get as much credit as he deserves for the amount of stuff he has done this summer).

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