Weston M. Eaton, Ph.D.

  • Postdoctoral Research Associate
Weston M. Eaton, Ph.D.
112D Armsby Building
University Park, State College 16802
Work Phone: 616-893-9537

Areas of Expertise

  • Rural and Natural Resource Sociology
  • Energy Transitions
  • Two-Way Engagement
  • Social Movements
  • Science and Technology Studies


  1. PhD Sociology, Michigan State University, 2015
  2. BA Sociology, Grand Valley State University, 2003

Weston M. Eaton is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education (AESE) Department at Penn State. His dissertation examined renewable energy technology development from the perspective of people living in communities where bioenergy facilities were proposed for development. A key part of this research showed how communities construct cultural resources around previous and ongoing extractive and industrial development and draw on these resources when making sense of and responding to new technological projects. As a postdoctoral researcher with the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD), Wes partnered with Extension professionals to develop resources intended to improve university-public engagement around emergent, complex, and contested science and technologies. A next step is to extend existing and develop new partnerships in order to apply the resources developed with the NCRCRD. As a postdoctoral research associate at Penn State, his research focuses on efforts to expand the emerging bioeconomy in the Northeast USA.

Current research projects include:

  • How might using Precision Agriculture platforms shape landowner decision-making about conservation practices? Undertaking a pilot study of how system level, farm-scale data might disrupt how Northeastern, U.S. landowners manage their agricultural land.
  • Do the symbolic meanings landowners attribute to their land, community, and technologies, drive decision-making about new crops? Analyzing a survey of Northeastern landowner perspectives of bioenergy crops to understand the role of symbolic meanings in social acceptance and willingness to grow conservation crops.
  • How do experts conceptualize bioenergy development differently in Brazil and the Northeastern U.S.? Analyzing interviews with bioenergy experts in these places to uncover how expect expectations shape research and design, and how this differs across national contexts and why. 
  • Can improved community engagement help solve water quantity and quality issues? Developing an improved model for stakeholder engagement in agricultural contexts.

Recent Publications (select)

Wright, Wynne & Weston M. Eaton. 2018. Representing Rurality: Cider Mills and Agritourism. Chapter in Craft Beverages and Tourism, Vol. 2. Palgrave Macmillan.

Burnham, Morey, Weston M. Eaton, Theresa Selfa, Clare Hinrichs and Andrea Feldpausch-Parker. 2017. “The politics of imaginaries and bioenergy sub-niches in the emerging Northeast U.S. bioenergy economy.” Geoforum 82:66-76.  

Eaton, Weston M., Morey Burnham, Clare Hinrichs, and Theresa Selfa. 2017. “Bioenergy Experts and Their Imagined “Obligatory Publics” in the United States: Implications for Public Engagement and Participation.” Energy Research & Social Science 25:65-75.

Eaton, Weston M. 2016. “What's the Problem? How ‘Industrial Culture’ Shapes Community Responses to Proposed Bioenergy Development in Northern Michigan, USA.” Journal of Rural Studies 45:76-87

Eaton, Weston M. and Wynne Wright. 2015 “Hurdles to Engaging Publics around Science and Technology." Michigan Sociological Review 29:48-74

Eaton, Weston M., Stephen P. Gasteyer and Lawrence Busch. 2014. "Bioenergy Futures: Framing Sociotechnical Imaginaries in Local Places." Rural Sociology 79:227-256.

Eaton, Weston M., Wynne Wright, Kyle Whyte, Stephen P. Gasteyer, and Pat Gehrke. 2014. "Engagement and Uncertainty: Technologies Challenge the Work of Engagement." Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 18(2):151–77.

Wright, Wynne, and Weston M. Eaton. “Wickedness, Reflexivity, and Dialogue: Toward A Multivalent Bioenergy.” Biofuels 5(3):219-232.

Public Engagement Resources

Socio-Cultural Factors Shaping Landowner Support for and Willingness to Plant Bioenergy Crops. 2016. NEWBio Webinar Series. Penn State Extension.

Improving Public Engagement Around Emergent, Complex, or Contested Science and Technology Issues. 2015. A Roadmap. North Central Regional Center for Rural Development.

Michigan’s Energy Future: Is there a Role for Woody Biomass? 2012. An Issue Guide. Michigan State University Extension & Michigan AgBioResearch.