Katrina Running is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminology at Idaho State University, where her research examines how farmers adapt to agricultural water restrictions, as well as public opinion on issues such as climate change and ecosystem services. Elisabeth Graffy is Professor of Practice in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, where she is also a Senior Sustainability Scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Her research involves policy dimensions of agricultural, water, and energy issues with a particular focus on the science-policy interface and on institutional responses to disruptive ideas, technologies, events, and social innovations. Together, they are taking over as Water Management, Science and Technology Section Editors for UC Press’s journal Case Studies in the Environment.

With this post, in addition to giving a hearty welcome to Trina and Elisa, we’d like to also give thanks to outgoing Section Editor Ronlyn Duncan (Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, New Zealand), who has ably shepherded Case Studies in the Environment’s WMST section since the journal’s inception.

UC Press: Welcome to Case Studies in the Environment!

Editors: Thank you! And thank you very much for giving us the chance to collaborate with all of you at CSE to promote case study research! We were thinking about the value of case studies for identifying practical ways to create more socially and environmentally sustainable communities. Similar to the idea of “think globally, act locally,” while most of our overarching environmental problems—greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, biodiversity loss, deforestation—are global, many of the solutions we come up with to address these problems are implemented at the local level. So this provides an opportunity to use case studies to better understand the particular mix of factors that both produce and effectively mitigate the generalized socio-environmental unease that many of us are feeling in an ever-more urgent way every day.

UC Press: CSE editors come from a variety of backgrounds, befitting both the interdisciplinary nature of the field and the dual research and practice aspects of understanding and dealing with environmental issues. Trina, your academic background is in sociology and political science, and Elisa, you have a fascinating mix of government and academic experience in environmental and science-policy issues, from a policy and economics background. From these perspectives, what does a case studies approach bring to our understanding of environmental issues?

EG: My experience is a mix of things, yes, and water has been a common denominator in my personal and professional life. I got into water policy because of working on food and agriculture, and working on water led me to energy and climate issues. Everything goes back to water, one way or another. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that environmental issues are often bundled, rarely simple or about just one thing. Case studies can be so effective because they offer a bite-sized way of looking at very large and complexly linked issues. They are naturally cross-cutting, naturally integrative. Through case studies, we can see how big ideas or global challenges apply in the real world and maybe even in our daily lives. They help us see issues as stories and understand how different people, in different places, solve problems and innovate. We can see both what is unique to a specific situation and what is generalizable among situations. These are real strengths of the case study approach.

KR: Increasingly, scholars working on questions related to human-environment interactions are recognizing the interdependent and systems-based nature of these relationships. As a researcher, especially when working on interdisciplinary projects, this has led me to feel overwhelmed and on several occasions to lament that in order to do justice to a question, we’ll need to “model the whole world!” But the case study approach can help overcome this challenge by narrowing in on geographically (or socially) specific contexts that allow clearer measurement choices and more focused analysis on the factors relevant to a particular phenomenon of interest. And then the insights from individual studies can be compared and considered in combination with others to slowly build towards a collective understanding of how various social and ecological forces interact under different conditions. 

UC Press: What is your vision for the section under your leadership? What kind of case studies related to water and the environment would you like to see submitted going forward?

EG: Well, I would like to see the water section invite contributions that run the gamut of case studies, from the humanities to engineering. The water field is pretty broad, and water management is a subset. I hope the title of the section doesn’t make anyone with a good water-related case study feel unwelcome. If in doubt about whether we will be interested in a manuscript, send it! We will accept case study submissions from all kinds of authors, too—not only from academics. Great case studies come from everywhere.

KR: My main objective will be to encourage submissions from scholars who take the time to orient their work within the larger body of water-related research. Water is one of those things in our world that is of interest to scholars in pretty much every discipline, so the study of water might better be organized via the type of question being asked rather than within individual academic fields. Because this is generally not how academics are trained, thinking and designing studies in this way can be difficult, but my sense is that environmental research is already moving in that direction, so I would especially invite interdisciplinary projects, along with discipline-specific work that makes the effort to frame its value to a multidisciplinary audience. I also think the case study methodology offers a lot of potential for really informative comparative research. For example, evaluating two (or more) locations with respect to how effective a particular environmentally-relevant policy is at improving sustainability metrics, or quality of life measures. Or, alternatively, analyzing why various communities—potentially distinguished by unique cultural norms, or local histories, or socio-demographic make-up—find different efforts at addressing similar issues to be successful. 

UC Press: For those who might be interested in submitting these kinds of papers to your section, what should they do?

KR: Please feel welcome to send an inquiry email with a short description of your study to request feedback on whether it might be right for our section. However, please also know that any study using a case study methodology with a focus on water is likely to be appropriate.

EG: Yes! We really encourage potential authors to view our section as welcoming just about any kind of case study that has to do with water. The title says management, science and technology, but we’re open to history and politics and media and ethics and art, too. Water intersects with many other issues, from human health to religion, human rights to the neurophysiological effects of nature. Our door is open. 
UC Press: Thank you, and best wishes for the Water Management, Science and Technology section under your leadership!

Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case study articles and case study pedagogy articles. The journal aims to inform faculty, students, researchers, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.
Twitter: @CaseStudEnv