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

  • Environmental Sociology
  • Social Movements
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Sociology of Risk
  • Public Engagement


  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:

  • Interviewing experts and professionals who develop agricultural decision-making support tools (Precision Ag) and landowners who both do and do not use them for a pilot-study of how these data driven resources shape individuals’ conservation decision-making in the Northeastern U.S. 
  • Analyzing survey data collected from Northeastern U.S. landowners to improve understanding of how the symbolic meanings people attribute to land, community, and technologies shape social acceptability of and willingness to adopt renewable energy technologies.
  • Analyzing interview data collected from experts and professionals working on bioenergy development in the Northeastern U.S. and Brazil to understand how their expectations for the role of economics in technology adoption shapes technology research, design, and implementation in those national contexts.    

Recent Publications (Select)

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.