Jennifer Bernstein is a lecturer with the USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute. She has published numerous peer-reviewed articles on environmental topics, including in Nature Climate Change, The Journal of Environmental Education, and Environmental Communication, and is co-author of SDG12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production: A Revolutionary Challenge for the 21st Century. In this post we welcome Dr. Bernstein as incoming Editor-in-Chief of UC Press’s journal Case Studies in the Environment, and discuss her editorial plans for the future of the journal.
UC Press: Thank you for taking on this important role as incoming Editor-in-Chief of Case Studies in the Environment! And congratulations!
JB: Thank you so much. I am excited to be involved with the journal in this capacity.
UC Press: You have been involved with Case Studies in the Environment from the very beginning—you’re a member of the Editorial Board. You’ve published one of the earliest (and most popular) articles in the journal, “Vickers Hot Springs: Ecotopia or Tragedy of the Commons?” as well as co-authored an article analyzing CSE’s Author, Editor, and Case Characteristics. You were co-Guest Editor on the CSE special collection Case Studies from the Spatial Sciences, and have presented on topics closely related to the journal at academic conferences, including at the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) and the American Association of Geographers (AAG). What is it that has drawn you to the journal?
JB: I was actually excited about the journal before it was a journal! In 2016 I was teaching at Santa Barbara City College. One day, an email from UC Press came through the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences listserv describing the concept of Case Studies in the Environment. At the time, I was looking for well-vetted environmental case studies to add nuance and complexity to my Human Geography course. I emailed the publisher, we discussed the project over coffee, and I started planning my first article.
That article looked at a popular hot springs in Ventura County. What I hoped to communicate was, at core, how this “tragedy of the commons” met some but not all of the criteria for successful land stewardship. Through a place-based exercise, I aimed for students to explore the variables unique to this particular situation as a basis for problem solving. Another article I wrote for the journal, along with David Downie, looked at the demographic and geographic characteristics associated with the journal’s authors and case study locations. While we found that gender was fairly balanced in terms of authorship, there was a lack of representation of authors and studies located in developing countries. I appreciated the way in which the editors were open to this sort of reflection and self-examination and willing to alter course accordingly.
Just as I did five years ago, I believe in the importance of this journal in filling a theoretical and pedagogical gap in academia. In environmental studies and sciences, we have the blessing of having a cohort of students who are engaged, thoughtful, and motivated. This journal has, and will continue to help educators and practitioners by supplying rigorous materials that will prepare readers for real world environmental problem solving.
UC Press: What is the role of case studies in environmental sciences/studies, environmental education?
JB: Many of us want rules when it comes to environmental problem solving. Where will mudslides occur and what will be their impact? What types of communication strategies are most likely to encourage green consumerism? Given the monumental severity posed by the climate crisis, any means of better understanding and predicting how environmental situations may evolve feels welcome.
But what is so great about case studies, especially in the context of environmental studies and sciences, is that they remind us not to rest on our laurels. In short, environmental problems break rules. They are complicated, place-specific, and often require multiple kinds of knowledge to address. They may look at why similar circumstances may create different environmental outcomes, and vice versa. As someone trained in geography, I think case studies can exemplify the geographic tradition of understanding how places are essentially intersections of flows that change over time. Case studies leave space for nuance, and exploration.
You also asked about environmental education. When case studies are used in the classroom, it encourages a number of things. First, it provides a connection between theory and the so-called real world. By thoroughly investigating case studies, students can learn how environmental phenomena manifest themselves on the ground. While the focus of case studies is on exploratory analysis, students are exposed to whatever methodology is most appropriate for understanding a particular research question. This type of multidisciplinary thinking is exactly what’s needed of today’s scholars and environmental professionals.
UC Press: What are some of your favorite case studies to appear in CSE to date? What kind of papers would you like to see submitted going forward?
JB: That’s a trick question—I can’t pick a favorite! But I can talk about what I think unites some of the best case studies we have published. One asset of a strong case study is, predictably, a good topic. It should be timely, counter-intuitive, engaging, urgent, or some combination thereof. A second is the way in which the case study manages two inherent tensions. The first tension is the uniqueness and incomparability of one case to any other, and the second is the need and desire to come away with findings that are, at least to some extent, generalizable. Excellent case studies recognize the complexity of scalability and the occasional tension between the local and the global. Good case studies are also written in a way that demonstrates awareness of their audience. In addition to the content itself, this can be demonstrated through supplemental materials such as learning objectives and presentation materials. Another aspect of manuscripts in the journal is that they are relatively short when compared to similar publications. This is of course deceptive, as it’s often more challenging to write less. And finally, it’s critical to remember that while academics, and especially teaching faculty, are the journal’s primary audience, we also have a wide network of global scholars and practitioners. Articles that are both theoretical and applied will likely gain the widest audience. At bottom, strong articles are ones where the reader comes away thinking that an environmental circumstance is more complicated and nuanced than previously thought, but they also have more clarity as to how to address it effectively.
I would also like to make a quick plug for the special collections. Special collections are great ways to highlight work on a particular topic, or come out of a particular organization or institution. A few years ago, I co-edited an issue in the role of spatial science in environmental problem solving. It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the work of my colleagues, and they eventually thanked me for my gentle haranguing when their published paper became part of their promotion dossier.
If anyone has an idea and is wondering if it’s a good fit for the journal, feel free to reach out to me with a short abstract (~250-300 words) and I would be more than happy to provide feedback.
UC Press: You officially take over the editorial side in September. What are your plans for the journal?
JB: With CSE, I am lucky to have a great foundation already established. At the most basic level, I hope to continue publishing rigorous materials that facilitate better understanding of environmental problems in the hopes of addressing them more effectively.
On a pragmatic level, one thing I have always loved about the journal has been the professionalism with which manuscripts have been handed. Turnaround times from reviewers have been reasonable, feedback has been helpful and constructive, and all issues that arose were resolved. This is a tradition I hope to continue. One of my goals is clear communication, rapid and thoughtful feedback, and a positive experience for all who interact with the journal.
In terms of what the journal itself publishes, I would like to see an increase in cases from the developing world, and written by scholars around the globe. There is a great deal of space to build out our coverage of energy issues, especially given the current political and environmental potency of the topic. And I am always interested in cases that integrate the physical sciences with the social sciences and humanities.
In addition to publishing excellent content, I feel a great deal of collegiality and support at CSE. I want everyone involved, from the associate editors to the board to the reviewers to the readers to the instructors to the students, to feel a sense of ownership over the journal. As we move forward, I hope to initiate projects that incubate this sense of community. This could include things like roundtable dialogues between special-issue contributors, featuring more extensive bios of our leadership team, and maybe even organizing mixers. I’d like to make our space inclusive for anyone who shares a passion for the environment and thinks case studies can be a useful tool for facilitating its protection.
As folks who care deeply about environmental problem-solving, many of whom are educating the next generation of problem solvers, we have an incredible opportunity with Case Studies in the Environment to continue to create the type of materials that we believe will bring change in the world.
I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts, feedback, and opinions as to how we can improve the journal, building upon this incredible foundation set by [current EIC] Wil Burns and others.
UC Press: Thanks again, and best of luck!
JB: Thank you so much!
Read CSE incoming Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Bernstein’s introductory letter here.
Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case study articles and case study pedagogy articles. The journal informs faculty, students, researchers, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.