Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Liam Downey

Second Advisor

David Ciplet

Third Advisor

Dale Miller


This thesis proposes a conceptual framework for understanding how neoliberalism has decreased the ability of environmental movements to manifest changes in political economic structure or spur state action on environmental issues that might be antagonistic to the neoliberal order.

Karl Marx and Karl Polanyi have developed reputable theories that describe social movements as exercising a degree of control over political economy. However, the problems with Marxist and Polanyian theory are twofold: first, they offer vague and homogenous descriptions of the social movements to which they refer. Second, a large shift in economic-political context towards neoliberalism since the 1970’s has drastically altered the political opportunity structure of social movements. In the modern day, many social movements have rallied around environmental issues in response to an impending environmental crisis. The antipathy of neoliberal hegemony towards environmental regulation has set it in opposition with environmental movements and as such many factions of the movement can be described as ‘counter hegemonic’. As neoliberalism constricts the political opportunity structure of these movements through domestic and international legislation and treaties, assimilation of loci of dissent into a neoliberal framework, and powerful financial coercion, limitations on environmental movement influence may yield dire consequences for the global environment.