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Fields and Streams

Stream Restoration, Neoliberalism, and the Future of Environmental Science

Rebecca Lave

Publication Year: 2012

Examining the science of stream restoration, Rebecca Lave argues that the neoliberal emphasis on the privatization and commercialization of knowledge has fundamentally changed the way that science is funded, organized, and viewed in the United States.

Stream restoration science and practice is in a startling state. The most widely respected expert in the field, Dave Rosgen, is a private consultant with relatively little formal scientific training. Since the mid-1990s, many academic and federal agency–based scientists have denounced Rosgen as a charlatan and a hack. Despite this, Rosgen’s Natural Channel Design approach, classification system, and short-course series are not only accepted but are viewed as more legitimate than academically produced knowledge and training. Rosgen’s methods are now promoted by federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as by resource agencies in dozens of states.

Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Lave demonstrates that the primary cause of Rosgen’s success is neither the method nor the man but is instead the assignment of a new legitimacy to scientific claims developed outside the academy, concurrent with academic scientists’ decreasing ability to defend their turf. What is at stake in the Rosgen wars, argues Lave, is not just the ecological health of our rivers and streams but the very future of environmental science.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-x

In August 2003 thirty-five of the most respected academics, agency staff, and consultants in stream restoration in the United States met in Minneapolis. They were a disciplinarily diverse but otherwise fairly...

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pp. xi-xvi

Qualitative research is impossible unless a great number of busy people take time away from their primary activities to talk. I am thus very grateful both to the short course students who filled out my surveys and put up with having one of their fellow participants observe them and to the people who took the time to talk with me about their restoration work...

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CHAPTER 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-17

The basic premise of ecological restoration is that people can undo past anthropogenic environmental damage and contribute positively to the planet’s health (Jordan 2000). This idea’s tremendous appeal has made restoration a driving force in the environmental movement...

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CHAPTER 2. Stream Restoration and Natural Channel Design

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pp. 18-38

The Rosgen Wars are deeply substantive, so analyzing them requires a firm grasp on the basics of how streams work and why they are restored. Thus I offer here a brief primer on streams, why they have become degraded, what people hope to accomplish...

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CHAPTER 3. The History of Stream Restoration and the Rise of Rosgen

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pp. 39-54

With a basic understanding of how streams work and a grasp on the primary components of the Natural Channel Design approach, we can now jump into the stream restoration field and raise some key questions about the conflict that has convulsed it since the mid-1990s. Where did Dave Rosgen, the producer of these controversial knowledge claims, come from?...

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CHAPTER 4. Capital Conflicts

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pp. 55-77

The simplest question about Natural Channel Design turns out to be the hardest to answer: does it work or not? Despite the fact that ncd has been in use since the mid-1980s, there...

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CHAPTER 5. Building a Base of Support

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pp. 78-99

In the previous chapter we explored the intellectual substance of the Rosgen Wars. The inescapable conclusion was that while substantive questions are central to the Rosgen Wars, so too are power struggles over what kinds of capital should have primacy in the restoration field...

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CHAPTER 6. The Political Economy of Stream Restoration

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pp. 100-115

The preceding chapters analyzed the dramatic change in the internal power structure of the stream restoration field, revealed the accusations participants in the Rosgen Wars level against each other as simultaneous claims to truth and capital, and described how Rosgen’s production...

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CHAPTER 7. Conclusions

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pp. 116-126

The unusual state of the American stream restoration field raises some critical questions. First, why was Rosgen able to establish himself as the most scientifically legitimate expert in the stream restoration field — the primary trainer of practitioners and the developer...

Appendix: Interview and Survey Metadata

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pp. 127-134


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pp. 135-146


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pp. 147-158


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pp. 159-172

E-ISBN-13: 9780820344744
E-ISBN-10: 0820344745
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820343914
Print-ISBN-10: 0820343919

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 1 b&w photo, 9 tables, 15 figures
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation
Series Editor Byline: Nik Heynen, Deborah Cowen, and Melissa W. Wright, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 816818645
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Fields and Streams

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Stream restoration -- United States.
  • Neoliberalism -- United States.
  • Rosgen, David L.
  • Environmental sciences -- United States.
  • Stream restoration -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Stream restoration -- Economic aspects -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-.
  • United States -- Environmental conditions.
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