Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Ann Miles

Second Advisor

Dr. Gregory Howard

Third Advisor

Dr. Vincent Lyon-Callo

Fourth Advisor

Dr. David Hartmann


Case study, environment, inclusion, social movement, diversity, environmental justice


At the core of this dissertation is the acknowledgment that social movements are complex networks of people who face many obstacles in their efforts to achieve social change. One critique of social movements is that their goals and mission are limited to short term ideas and not long-term, systemic transformation. The lack of long term, systemic change can be observed when social movement groups mobilize for the same cause over and over again with what appears to be little progress over a period of time. The exact blueprint for a social movement’s success does not exist, but it is posited that transformative change (Faber 2008)(Taylor 1993) is suggested in order to create a lasting difference.

This dissertation is an exploratory, qualitative case study that examined a local example of environmental activism. This case study was rooted in a specific case involving community activism taking place in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Through the use of primary and secondary data, it explored the beginning of a social movement that emerged to prevent the creation of a landfill near one of Kalamazoo's largest drinking water aquifers.

Social movement literature suggests some key points for a more successful movement: the need for radical change, the need for actual coalitions instead of silos, and the need for a reframing of our traditional notion of what expertise and leadership look like to include situated knowledge from displaced and marginalized communities. Future efforts would likely benefit from acknowledging the interconnectedness between social activist groups and the need to center marginalized voices and the needs of the most vulnerable communities. The key lies in understanding the potential for transformational restructuring of an organization. If the goal is not to restructure a system, activists and the communities for which they advocate may risk becoming a casualty of the system. KRCC demonstrated a common trap that many groups experience and the avoidance of such an event likely relies on a group’s concerted effort to mobilize with transformative change and a more holistic understanding of justice as a clear, defined goal.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access