Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Elena P. Bastidas

Second Advisor

Judith McKay

Third Advisor

Robin Cooper


cascading disaster, environmental conflict, Piney Point, social capital


The purpose of this explanatory case study is to understand the sense that community members made of how and why environmental conflict manifested in the wake of the Piney Point cascading disaster. It found that intentional avoidance of local news caused community members to be unaware of the risks beforehand, of the responses in the aftermath, and of the threats that remain. The study leverages a unique opportunity to fill a gap in the research by examining a contemporary cascading disaster as it generated environmental conflict. This dissertation centers on the perceptions of directly affected community members in the Tampa Bay area a year after the onset of the disaster and incorporates semi-structured interviews, document and media analysis, conflict mapping, and social network analysis. Cascading disaster is defined as an extreme event in which a nonlinear sequence of physical, social, or economic disruptions occurs over time and generates secondary events of strong impact. Environmental conflict is defined as a type of social conflict arising over the allocation of finite resources and the deterioration of the natural environment. Social capital theory provides the theoretical lens, drawing on previous work ranging from contaminated and corrosive communities to consensual and therapeutic communities. This study contributes to the body of knowledge on environmental conflict at a time when climate change is threatening to make them more numerous and costly. The likelihood of similar cascading disasters in the future adds to the urgency of this research.