Theories of Change

I recently began new research exploring ideological tensions among the mainstream environmental movement concerning what to do about markets — over how to interpret their uses (and misuses), the politics at stake in them, and ultimately whether their spread must be accommodated or resisted. I examine how these tensions are negotiated by analyzing the “Theory of Change” (TOC) models produced by large environmental organizations. Akin to programme logic models used by development practitioners to evaluate interventions, TOCs are an increasingly important institutional mechanism whose recent proliferation among environmental groups merits further attention. Through comparative analysis of TOCs and interviews with their authors, this project will explore how practitioners of “social change” enrolled in processes of TOC formulation think through questions of political economy, power, and social struggle, and more pointedly, how they come to interpret where they stand in relation to the causes and consequences of expanding market rule. Analyzed in this way, TOCs provide a revealing glimpse into the social construction of political “common sense” among the environmental community: vivid portraits of how environmentalists, as self-described agents of social change, are now grappling with the political meaning of markets and what their organizations can, and should, do about them.