William Freudenburg

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William R. Freudenburg
Born (1951-11-02)2 November 1951
Madison, Nebraska, United States
Died 28 December 2010(2010-12-28) (aged 59)
Santa Barbara, California, United States[1]
Fields Sociology, Environmental studies
Institutions University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Wisconsin-Madison
Alma mater Yale University
Known for work on Risk perception, Social disruption and Environmental degradation
Spouse Sarah Stewart[2]

William Robert Freudenburg, (2 November 1951 – 28 December 2010) was an environmental sociologist and social theorist, best known for his work in rural sociology on the topics of risk perception, social disruption, and the causes of environmental degradation. Born in Madison, Nebraska, raised in West Point, Nebraska, he was educated at the University of Nebraska and Yale University. Freudenburg was a professor of sociology at a number of universities; his ultimate position was as Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.[3] He died at his home in Santa Barbara, of cholangiocarcinoma (cancer of the bile duct).[1]

Much of Freudenburg's research dealt with the relationship between society and the environment, often in rural communities. Although not opposed to forms of environmentalism which emphasize reducing one’s impact on the environment (such as recycling), Freudenburg focused less on the role of consumers and more on the role of regulatory structure and actions of industry, emphasizing the socially structured sources of environmental impacts. He was prominent in both rural and environmental sociology, and was elected and served as president of the Rural Sociological Society in 2004-2005, and at the time of his death was president-elect of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS), an organization which he helped found.[citation needed]

Education and career[edit]

Freudenburg completed his undergraduate work at the University of Nebraska and then earned three graduate degrees, including his Ph.D., from Yale University. He began his professional career at Washington State University, then moved to the University of Wisconsin, where he spent most of his professional career. During that time, a compilation by graduate students found Freudenburg to have published more articles on environment-society relationships in leading journals than anyone else. While he was still on the faculty at Wisconsin, he was nominated for an endowed professorship at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which he accepted, and he worked at UCSB until his death.

Theory of double diversion[edit]

Freudenburg published a number influential ideas, but his central focus in recent years was on what he called the double diversion. Although in his latter years he taught in the program established in part by Garrett Hardin, and he often stressed his high regard for Hardin's work, the predictions that derive from Freudenburg's double diversion work are contrary to those associated with Hardin's "tragedy of the commons."[4] Rather than being due mainly to the actions of individual consumers, Freudenburg argued, much or most of all environmental harm is actually due to a small number of organized producers. Contrary to the notion that environmental protection is bad for the economy and jobs, the worst sources of environmental harm are commonly due to a surprisingly small fraction of all economic activity—and to an even smaller fraction of the jobs. In the first peer-reviewed article in which this perspective was spelled out, for example, Freudenburg found that the majority of all toxic emissions in the U.S. economy came from industries that were responsible for only about 5% of the gross national product—and just 1.4% of the nation's jobs.[5]


Oil in Troubled Waters[edit]

  • Freudenburg, William R. and Gramling, Robert. Oil in Troubled Waters: Perceptions, Politics, and the Battle over Offshore Drilling. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994.

Catastrophe in the Making[edit]

"Catastrophe" was written with Robert Gramling, Shirley B. Laska, and Kai T. Erikson. It was published in August 2009, on the fourth anniversary of Katrina: Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow. (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2009). Unlike most "Katrina" books, which tend to focus on the hurricane's aftermath, this one discusses the ways in which public works projects—supposedly designed to bring greater prosperity to New Orleans—actually had little if any economic benefits, while potentially contributing to the storm's devastation. Particularly noteworthy in this connection was the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Canal (MRGO), which did little to serve as an "outlet" for commerce, but did serve as a major inlet for salt water, which killed much of the vegetation that held together the fragile but formerly healthy wetlands to the southeast of New Orleans. Providing the reader with New Orleans history, engineering data, and scholarly analysis, the authors argue that land development in the region led to the creation of several canals intended to promote economic prosperity, which ironically resulted in the intended economic capital was never realized due to the excessive maintenance costs. Instead, significant human capital was lost in 2005 as the canals and their subsequent environmental degradation exacerbated the impact of Katrina and her deadly floodwaters.

Blowout in the Gulf[edit]

Freudenburg's final published book, written with long-time collaborator Robert Gramling, was released in October 2010. Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America (Cambridge MIT Press) puts the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in historical and policy perspective.

Robbing Nature's Bank[edit]

Before he died, Freudenburg was working on a book tentatively entitled Robbing Nature’s Bank, which explored learning from problems of the past in order to prevent similar “unnatural disasters” in the future. The manuscript focuses less on the individual factors in harming the environment and points out that a large majority of this harm comes from organizational factors.


Professional positions and awards[edit]

American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Secretary, Chair-Elect, Chair, 1986–97—Named AAAS Fellow, 1997–98
American Sociological Association
  • First Congressional Fellow to serve in U.S. House of Representatives, 1983–84—Chair, Section on Environment and Technology, 1989–91—Winner, Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Sociology of Environment and Technology, 1995–96—Winner, Award for Best Article of the Year, Section on Political Sociology, American Sociological Association (with Harvey Molotch and Krista Paulsen, for “History Repeats Itself, but How?”)
Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences
  • Co-founder and organizer of first professional conference, 2006—President-Elect and Vice-President, 2009–2011
National Academy of Sciences/National Academy of Engineering/National Research Council
  • Member or panelist for six committees or panels, 1984–2001
Pacific Sociological Association
  • Winner, Award for Best Article of 1999-2000, (with Lisa Wilson and Dan O'Leary, for “Forty Years of Spotted Owls”)
Rural Sociological Society
  • "Award of Merit" winner, Natural Resources Research Group, 1990–91—Winner, inaugural Frederick Buttel Award for Outstanding article (2004–2006) (for "Privileged Access, Privileged Accounts," 2005)
  • President, 2004–05
University of California, Santa Barbara, Residence Halls Association and Office of Residential Life
  • "Outstanding Professor" Award winner, 2006–2007

Selected articles[edit]

  • Alario, Margarita and Freudenburg, William R. "The Paradoxes of Modernity: Scientific Advances, Environmental Problems, and Risks to the Social Fabric?" Sociological Forum, Vol. 18, No. 2, (June 2003). http://web.archive.org/web/20100617170446/http://www.es.ucsb.edu/faculty/freudenburg_pdf%27s/AlarioFreudSocForum03.pdf
  • Fisher, Dana R. and Freudenburg, William R. "Ecological Modernization and Its Critics: Assessing the Past and Looking Toward the Future." Society and Natural Resources, 14:701–709, 2001
  • Freudenburg, William R. "Boomtown's Youth: The Differential Impacts of Rapid Community Growth on Adolescents and Adults." American Sociological Review, Vol. 49, No. 5 (Oct., 1984), 697-705. http://web.archive.org/web/20100617162357/http://www.es.ucsb.edu/faculty/freudenburg_pdf%27s/BmtnYouthASR84pdf.pdf
  • Freudenburg, William R. "The Density of Acquaintanceship: An Overlooked Variable in Community Research?" The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 92, No. 1 (Jul., 1986), 27-63
  • Freudenburg, William R. "Perceived Risk, Real Risk: Social Science and the Art of Probabilistic Risk Assessment" Science, New Series, Vol. 242, No. 4875 (7 Oct. 1988), 44-49
  • Freudenburg, William R. "A 'Good Business Climate' as Bad Economic News?" Society and Natural Resources 3: 313-31. http://repositories.cdlib.org/postprints/1411
  • Freudenburg, William R. "Risk and Recreancy: Weber, the Division of Labor, and the Rationality of Risk Perceptions." Social Forces, Vol. 71, No. 4 (June 1993), 909-932.
  • Freudenburg, William R. "Seeding Science, Courting Conclusions: Reexamining the Intersection of Science, Corporate Cash, and the Law" Sociological Forum, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2005 http://repositories.cdlib.org/postprints/638
  • Freudenburg, William R. "Privileged Access, Privileged Accounts: Toward a Socially Structured Theory of Resources and Discourses." Social Forces 84.1 (2005) 89-114 http://repositories.cdlib.org/postprints/1445
  • Freudenburg, William R., Frickel, Scott, and Gramling, Robert. "Beyond the Nature/Society Divide: Learning to Think about a Mountain." Sociological Forum, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), 361-392.
  • Freudenburg, William R. and Gramling, Robert. "How crude: Advocacy coalitions, offshore oil, and the self-negating belief." Policy Sciences 35: 17-41, 2002
  • Freudenburg, William R. and Jones, Timothy, R. "Attitudes and Stress in the Presence of Technological Risk: A Test of the Supreme Court Hypothesis." Social Forces, Vol. 69, No. 4 (June 1991), 1143-1168.
  • Freudenburg, William R. and Gramling, Robert. "Scientific Expertise and Natural Resource Decisions: Social Science Participation on Interdisciplinary Scientific Committees." Social Science Quarterly, Volume 83, Number 1, March 2002.
  • Freudenburg, William R. and Wilson, Lisa, J. "Mining the Data: Analyzing the Economic Implications of Mining for Nonmetropolitan Regions." Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 72, No. 4, Fall 2002, 549-75.
  • Freudenburg, William R., Lisa J. Wilson, and Daniel O'Leary. "Forty Years of Spotted Owls? A Longitudinal Analysis of Logging-Industry Job Losses." Sociological Perspectives 41(1): 1-26, 1998.


  1. ^ a b Obituary in The Longmont Times.[dead link]
  2. ^ "Bill Freudenburg Passes," Santa Barbara Independent, 29 December 2010. Accessed: 10 December 2012.
  3. ^ Faculty web page. Accessed 2009-12-08. Archived 22 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Hardin, Garrett, "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science 162 (13 December 1968): 1243-48.
  5. ^ William R. Freudenburg, "Privileged Access, Privileged Accounts: Toward a Socially Structured Theory of Resources and Discourses." Social Forces 84.1 (2005) 89-114 http://repositories.cdlib.org/postprints/1445
  6. ^ Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

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