Theories of Change

I recently began new research investigating emergent ideological tensions among the mainstream environmental movement concerning how to apprehend the shifting strategic terrain of the current conjuncture. I examine how such tensions are negotiated and managed by analyzing the “Theory of Change” (TOC) models produced by large environmental organizations. Akin to programme logic models used by development practitioners to evaluate project interventions, TOCs are an increasingly important institutional mechanism whose recent proliferation among environmental groups merits further attention. Through interviews, participant observation, and comparative analysis of different TOC processes and outcomes, I explore how practitioners of “social change” enrolled in TOC formulation think through fundamental questions about the nature of power, political economy, and social struggle, and more pointedly, how they come to interpret where they stand in relation to established patterns of political order. As I will show, TOCs provide revealing glimpses into the social construction of political “common sense” among the environmental movement–vivid portraits of how environmentalists of varying stripes are now grappling with the political meaning of the present moment and what can, and should, be done about it.