Political Science Speaker Series, Manuel Teodoro, Texas A&M University

"Green Panopticon: Environmental Coproduction as Political Participation"


From forest fires to pollution prevention, governments look to citizens to help monitor conditions and report environmental threats. Under what political conditions are citizens more or less willing to report violations of environmental regulations? Does such participatory surveillance result in more effective regulation? We take up these questions with an analysis of water restrictions in California. When a historically severe drought struck in 2014, the state responded part by imposing a restrictions on non-essential water use. The state also set up a “tattle-tale” hotline and web portal for reporting water waste, inviting people to coproduce environmental regulation. Californians responded with gusto, reporting nearly half a million water waste complaints. Casting environmental coproduction as a political act, we argue that political conditions affect citizen willingness to engage in participatory surveillance. We analyze monthly waste complaint records for 408 California water systems from 2014-2017. Results reveal that partisan conflict and political institutions significantly predict water waste complaints. We also find that participatory surveillance strongly and positively correlates with overall conservation.