Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Sherry Cable

Committee Members

R. Scott Frey, Robert E. Jones, David L. Feldman


Understanding the impact of human decisions on vital resources is a core task of environmental sociology, which studies the interaction between human society and the environment. The overarching theme of this research is the economicenvironmental relationship in U.S. public policy, using a case study of a specific environmental resource problem in a specific region. It fuses basic assumptions of two economic growth models (treadmill of production and the urban growth machine) to examine the extent to which these assumptions permeate the worldviews of policymakers and those who advise them. When the growth imperative is a priority in their worldviews, then the paradigm shapes policy decisions favorable to growth. When the growth imperative paradigm dominates the decision-making structure, then policy decisions favor economic growth over concerns for and at the expense of environmental resources. This is the case because economic growth requires unlimited commoditization and exploitation of finite resources. The results are impairment of both the quantity and quality of natural resources on which communities depend for growth and their existence.

This research examines the economic-environmental relationship in a case study of the Memphis, Tennessee area to ascertain how policy decisions that promote growth affect groundwater and may have sparked an inter-state water conflict. The State of Mississippi filed a federal lawsuit against Memphis and its utility Memphis Light, Gas and Water over rights to groundwater, the sole source of drinking water. The study ascertains that the predominance of the growth paradigm is linked to policymakers’ perspectives and reflected in their decisions that impair the quantity and quality of vital environmental resources. The case demonstrates how the growth imperative contributes to resource depletion, which can lead to conflict among users of a common resource.

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