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Barbara Allen Dance Your Ph.D.

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Published on Nov 8, 2008

Dissertation: Uneasy Alchemy: Citizens and Experts in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor Disputes (1999) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Department of Science and Technology Studies.

For my social science dissertation, I was interested in what situations and affiliations led to more positive outcomes for citizen groups protesting polluting industrial practices. After spending three years doing ethnographic fieldwork in south Louisiana's chemical corridor (also called Cancer Alley), a region of over 100 chemical plants located along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, I observed the following:
1) Diverse groups (i.e. mixed-race and mixed-class) were more successful in changing environmental policy and regulation.
2) Groups that allied themselves with public-oriented scientists were better able to engage in producing more effective policy-relevant environmental knowledge.

I choreographed the dance piece with myself as the scientist, at first moving within the confines of the laboratory, and never looking out at the world. Two groups of citizens (red and blue) emerge and protest, separately at first, and then they join together. At this point the scientist joins with the group and eventually leads them. Unfurling a bright umbrella, a symbol of the New Orleans "second line" (a spontaneous parade for citizens participating unofficially in an event) , the scientist leads the group, now waving positive environmental signs, in a jubilant procession.

I set the dance to the Soul Rebels, "Let Your Mind Be Free," in the tradition of New Orleans street parade music. The six performers from Bowen McCauley Dance creatively improvised their own movements as protesters. They were Alison Crosby, Alicia Curtis, Heidi Kershaw, Dustin Kimball, Amanda Moore, and Brook Urquhart.

I am currently an associate professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Techs National Capital Region Campus.

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