barn - taken by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Contemporary Rural Issues Seminar

Each Fall and Winter, we offer this seminar series in support of the Rural Studies Program and the provost's Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative. Graduate students may register for the series of presentations to obtain credit, but all members of the OSU community and the general public are invited to all of these presentations.  Presenters for this seminar have come to us from US Department of Agriculture, US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Employment Department, and other state and federal agencies.  Various state legislators have also presented, along with academics from around OSU and from other universities.


Research Highlights

Denise Lach on Sociology of Salmon

The sociology of salmon? The decisions we make about managing wild salmon have a big impact on the lives of Pacific Northwest residents. Professor Denise Lach has co-authored a new book, Salmon 2100: The Future of Wild Pacific Salmon, in which the authors collect proposals by policy analysts, salmon advocates, and scientists about the last best chance for wild salmon along the Pacific Coast. Meanwhile, she has co-authored another study (with Political Science professor Brent Steel) about how informed and involved Oregon and Washington residents are in coastal policy issues such as fisheries, beach erosion, and pollution. One of the strongest findings was that people who regularly visit the coast - go to the Aquarium or Hatfield Marine Science Center, walk on the beach, watch whales - know more coastal issues and support more coastal policies than people who don't visit regularly.

Mark Edwards on Oregon's Food Insecurity

Sociologists' research can make a difference in decisions made by our leaders. Professor Mark Edwards' research into the changing rates of food insecurity and hunger in Oregon has assisted advocacy groups and legislators in improving the state's efforts to enroll low income families in food stamp programs. The apparent result has been a dramatic decline in Oregon's hunger rate in the early part of this decade, in spite of the fact that the state was experiencing an economic recession. His research has been highlighted in the Associated Press, National Public Radio, and Oregon television stations. Currently, he is studying the link between public policy decisions and changes in hunger in other western states as well. You can locate some of his papers at the rural studies website.

Dwaine Plaza on International Money Transfers

Billions of dollars a year cross international borders simply because immigrant workers send money back home. Many distant communities in far away places are thus intimately connected to the work of immigrants all around us. Residents of the U.S. may think of this primarily as a US/Mexico phenomenon, but Professor Dwaine Plaza's recent research explores this flow of money between Canada and the Caribbean. His research focuses on the sociological questions of who sends the money, why they send it, how much is sent, and how often, and his findings have important policy implications for agreements between financial institutions in different countries and for regulatory policies in Canada and the U.S.

Flaxen Conway on Changes in Coastal Communities

As a community researcher and educator in the OSU Extension Service and a professor in the Sociology department, Flaxen Conway is in contact with more Oregon residents than most OSU faculty. Last year she received a national award for superior outreach programming. This year she's launched an innovative research program about changes in coastal communities of place and interest, recruiting community members to assist in interviewing fellow residents and gathering necessary data to document potential socioeconomic impacts of fisheries management policy changes on communities. Towns that once primarily processed seafood now cater to tourists, and families that once lived well on income from fishing find themselves having to leave an occupation that had been intergerational. Changes in natural resource policy impact the economic, ecological, and social fabric of the community. The link above provides additional information about her research.

Scott Akins on Drugs and Drug Policy

Professor Scott Akins and Clayton Mosher recently published Drugs and Drug Policy: The Control of Consciousness Alteration (Sage Publications, Rev. Ed. 2013). It examines psychoactive substance use and the policies designed to regulate particular forms of substance use throughout the world. The pursuit of consciousness alteration through the use of both legal and illegal drugs is a pervasive feature of humans - some scholars have even argued that the desire to alter consciousness is a basic human drive and that absolute sobriety is not a natural or primary human state. It is also important to recognize that the tendency towards consciousness-alteration is pursued by people in many "non-drug" ways, and that drugs have become a commonly used mechanism to achieve consciousness-alteration not because they are distinct in this capacity, but because they offer a quick and convenient means to achieve this goal. Importantly, although the effects of drugs are often seen as either "good" or "bad" depending on the particular drug and the context of use, all drugs have potentially beneficial effects and the potential to be misused. Accordingly, existing policy designed to regulate substance use in America is compared with approaches that exist abroad, and substance regulation policy in general is critiqued with the recognition that when we categorize substances according to their psychoactive effects and potential for harm, rather than by their legal classification, the distinctions between legal and illegal drugs are very difficult to make.

Sally K. Gallagher released Making Do in Damascus, an analysis of how ordinary women navigate cultural ideals around gender, religion and family obligations. Based on nearly two decades of periodic fieldwork in Damascus, she assesses how gender strategies intersect with social class in women's choices and constraints regarding education, marriage, employment, childrearing and technology.  She has recently published a piece for the Huffington Post on the crisis in Syria.

In addition to her work in the Middle East, Professor Gallagher’s research explores the real workings of gender ideals within conservative Protestant families in a series of articles and the book, Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life.

Steven Ortiz on Sport Marriages

Professor Steven Ortiz has conducted extensive ethnographic research on sport marriages. Although gaining access to this closely guarded world is difficult, he was able to develop collaborative relationships with 47 wives of professional athletes over a four-year period. During his fieldwork, he was in a rare position to observe directly their personal dilemmas, stressors, and crises, and learned much about the lives of women in husband-oriented marriages. His research reveals how women married to high-profile men experience stress, alienation, estrangement, and other mental health issues, and how they cope with work/family issues such as work-related travel, geographical mobility/instability, infidelity, groupies/other extramarital partners, power/control patterns, mothers-in-law, media scrutiny, serious injuries, voluntary/involuntary retirement, post-career problems, and pressures to conform to public/organizational/spousal expectations. His observations led him to coin the terms “culture of adultery,” “spoiled athlete syndrome,” and “career-dominated marriage” to describe some of the marital dynamics he studied. As a national expert on sport marriages, his research has generated considerable public interest. He has been featured on television (e.g., Dateline NBC, Anderson Cooper 3600, Fox News), in news agencies (e.g., Associated Press), in magazines (e.g., Newsweek, Sports Illustrated), in newspapers (e.g., New York Times, USA Today, Sunday Times [London]), and on web sites (e.g.,,,CBS, and his research has been the basis for interviews on news- and sports-talk radio programs. He is often the first person reporters call when a news story breaks involving the marital issues of popular sport figures.