Insects and institutions: Managing emergent hazards in the U.S. southwest

Paul Robbins, Rayna Farnsworth, John Paul Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


A range of institutional systems exist to manage and mitigate environmental problems, yet the quickly changing, ecologically surprising, and spatially complex qualities of ecological problems create new challenges for institutional learning. The rapid and nearly uncontrolled recent outbreak of West Nile Virus in the U.S. Southwest, and the associated risk of other mosquito-borne diseases, typifies these sorts of challenges. How are management authorities adapting to the changing conditions presented by mosquito-borne diseases? What bureaucratic structures condition and limit their responses? Using archival research and interviews, this paper analyzes the recent track record of mosquito management in southern Arizona, specifically examining county health programs and municipal water authorities in Pima County and Tucson. Results suggest that bureaucracies develop fundamentally different practices. While health officials collect data and manage problems based largely on citizen complaints, water management authorities are occupied with managing emerging problems in artificial wetland environments. Both bureaucracies are encumbered by disciplinary specializations that fragment learning, thwart interagency interaction, and decrease response times. These differing systems of management and understanding also lead to spotty and inconsistent data collection and abatement. By addressing the fundamental analogies and metaphors that lie at the heart of persistent institutions, adaptation might be better facilitated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-112
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Environmental Policy and Planning
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Institutional geographies
  • Mosquito
  • Political ecology
  • West Nile Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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