Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Sherry Cable, Paul K. Gellert

Committee Members

R. Scott Frey


Building on scholarship regarding the rise of neoliberalism since the late 1970s and using a comparative-historical methodology, this thesis examines a case study regarding how state governments in the United States have succumbed to neoliberal pressures over time. Specifically, this thesis examines the rapid expansion of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Wisconsin since 1995. As these large CAFOs have grown in size, so have the social and environmental problems related to their use, including pollution of drinking water sources for rural communities. Based on analysis of hundreds of newspaper articles, this thesis finds that that a critical juncture occurred with the demise of the Office of the Public Intervenor, a legally designated adversarial force unique to the state that had been created in the late 1960s as a compromise between conservationists and business interests to monitor state enforcement of environmental regulations, particularly water pollution. Public statements by political leaders from both parties, conservationists, dairy industry executives, and citizens are analyzed around three key time periods: the 1966-67 establishment of the Office of the Public Intervenor, the 1984 defense of its role against a challenge by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the 1995 elimination of the Office. In retrospect, the elimination of the public intervenor was a critical juncture necessary to create the conditions that enabled CAFOs to expand without the “burden” of state regulation. Subsequently, through incremental legal changes, Wisconsinites lost access to legal remedies that could curb polluting practices of large CAFOs. This project adds to the growing body of sociolegal literature which aims to understand the state-corporate neoliberal project, particularly how states use law and policy to facilitate the needs of large corporations, often against the will of their own people.

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