David A. Sonnenfeld, Ph.D.

Biographical Note


(Incorporating material from an article
by Lorie Higgins in Sociology News,
Dept. of Sociology, Washington State University,
Spring 1997. Photo by Machiel Lamers, at
UN Headquarters, New York, NY.)

David Sonnenfeld is currently Professor of Sociology and Environmental Policy, Department of Environmental Studies, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), in Syracuse, New York. He is also Research Associate and periodic Guest Professor with the Environmental Policy Group at Wageningen University, in the Netherlands; and Affiliate Faculty, Department of Sociology, Maxwell School for Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. From 2014-17, he was co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Society & Natural Resources, with Peter Leigh Taylor. Prior to joining ESF's faculty in 2007, he was an Associate Professor of Community and Rural Sociology at Washington State University.

David obtained his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1996, with an emphasis on Environmental Sociology, the Sociology of Development, and Historical and Field Research Methods. A series of serendipitous events led him to his dissertation topic, a comparative study of social movements' influence on adoption of new, environmental technologies in the pulp and paper industries of Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

After completing his degree as an Independent Scholar in the Honors College at the University of Oregon, David explored first-hand some aspects of life which had been unknown to him as a young, fast-tracked scholar. He worked for several years as a laborer/ machine operator, including in Oregon's forest products industry. This experience not only was "expanding", but also gave him valuable insights in later research. Forest policy issues -- logging of "old growth" redwoods -- remained controversial in California as David returned to academic pursuits, providing impetus for forest industry related research. As an Intercampus Exchange Student at the University of California, Berkeley, David was fortunate to link up with a network of scholars studying Indonesian forestry issues, beginning his foray into study of social and environmental transformation in Southeast Asia and beyond. Upon selecting a focus for his doctoral research, David was very successful raising funds to carry it out. Support for his dissertation research was received from the Fulbright Program, the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, and the Switzer Foundation Environmental Program. In 1993-94, he was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University, from where he based his field research.

His family background played a role in shaping David's research interests, giving him insights into human-environment interactions, and forest and environmental policy. His father, the late Joseph Sonnenfeld, a behavioral geographer, was a founding member of the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University. His brother, William Sonnenfeld, with degrees in forestry and business, is a forest industry analyst and consultant.

David finds collaborative, multi-disciplinary research rewarding and productive -- all features of the rich, interdisciplinary & collegial culture in Syracuse. He enjoys sharing results and observations from field studies with people around the world. David returned to the University of California at Berkeley as S. V. Ciriacy-Wantrup Visiting Scholar in 1998-2000, working as Research Fellow at the Institute of International Studies and Visiting Professor with UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group. David was WIMEK Fellow with the Environmental Policy Group at Wageningen University in 2003-04, and again in 2012. In 2018-19, he was Lady Davis Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences, at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He continues to work actively with colleagues from around the world. In addition to his international activities, David tries to stay abreast of important social and environmental dynamics closer to home. In New York, this includes social and economic, as well as environmental dimensions, of sustainability, deterioration and 'greening' of social infrastructure, conservation and preservation of the natural environment, transboundary environmental issues, and more.

Even with his scholarly engagements, David tries to find time to experience the out-of-doors and photography. As a youth, David played bassoon in the Newark, Delaware, public schools and community orchestra. Today, he appreciates an ever-changing variety of music; current favorites include alternative and acoustic rock, world music, and jazz. A citizen of both the USA and Canada, David enjoys summers with extended family on the Gatineau River, Quebec -- near Ottawa, Canada's capital (and, at 3+ hrs. away, the closest big city to Syracuse!). He enjoys walking, hiking, and cross-country skiing for fitness; bicycling (a pleasure rediscovered in the Netherlands); openwater swimming and paddling; and gardening.

David's wife, aquatic ecologist Kathleen McGrath (Ph.D., University of Idaho), is currently Water Quality Specialist with Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District. Her extracurricular passions include native plant restoration and gardening. Their son, Nathan, is a sophomore at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. David's eldest son, Raphael, is a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in Informatics, and is currently working for a San Francisco-based not-for-profit organization monitoring public spending on affordable housing in California. Number two son, Josh, a fellow alumnus of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), is currently an organizer for the BlueGreen Alliance, supporting organized labor in California's energy transition; previously, he was Associate Director of the Sierra Club's national "Our Wild America" campaign. Daughter-in-law, Rachelle, an alumna of UCSC & Notre Dame de Namur University, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). Their son, Eli, is eager to explore his world; their daughter, Abby, is happy and healthy in her second year!

When they have a chance, David and his family enjoy exploring nature, history and culture in upstate New York, the Ottawa/ Gatineau region, the Pacific Coast/ Bay Area, and around the world.

David A. Sonnenfeld's Home Page

last updated December 27, 2021