Matt Comi

Environmental Sociology + Science and Technology Studies

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I am a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Kansas. My work is motivated by a goal to support more just, culturally relevant, and sustainable food producing systems on a warming planet. My independent research draws on literatures in environmental, cultural and rural sociology while emphasizing issues long relevant to science and technology studies. With funding from the National Science Foundation (Award #1946941), I am currently completing dissertation research studying the inovative practices of hop farmers in the US Intermountain West and Midwest as a case example to explore the intersecting social worlds of innovation, agriculture, and ecosystems. This project builds on my related research studying how emerging technologies impact the wellbeing of people, places, and ecosystems alongside my work examining the cultural contents of foodways.


Climate Change + Farmer-Driven Innovation

    Project Summary

    This research stream examines farmer-driven innovation, and whether such innovation results in environmentally sustainable or socially beneficial outcomes. Using qualitative methods, I work with hop farmers in the US who innovate their own implements and/or operate their own breeding programs. Broadly, I ask the simple question: do farmers know better? This research reveals how environments, social values, scientific knowledge, and financial pressures play into these farmers' practices. Further, I show how involving farmers in scientific knowledge-making can support more sustainable futures.

    Related Grants and Awards

  • 2020. National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant. Award# 1946941. "Exploring on-farm innovation, environmental change, and rural livelihoods in the US hop-growing industry" Division of Social and Economic Sciences: Science, Technology, and Society Program.
  • Related Publications

  • 2021. Comi, Matt Seeds, Chemicals, and Stuff: The Agency of Things in (un)just agriculture regimes Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene Ed. Melinda Laituri, Stacia Ryder, Katharyn Powlen. Routledge. [In Print]

  • 2020 Comi, Matt "Other agricultures of scale: Social and environmental insights from Yakima Valley hop growers" Journal of Rural Studies DOI:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2020.10.041

Environmental Sustainability + Digital Agriculture

    Project Summary

    This research stream examines the paired social and environmental results of emerging digital agriculture practices in large commodity industries. Drawing on qualitative research with midwestern agricultural professionals working in the corn and soy industries, this work examines the myriad biological, mechanical, and social technologies that "lock-in" large commodity farmers into unsustainable practices. By taking a relational approach to understanding "sustainability" and "digital agriculture" my research critically engages with the meanings of these practices and identifies potential methods for increasing farmer autonomy and improving sustainability in agricuture.

    Related Grants and Awards

  • 2019. American Sociology Association (ASA) Robert Boguslaw Award for Research on Technology and Humanism
  • Related Publications

  • 2020. Comi, Matt "The distributed farmer: Rethinking US Midwestern precision agriculture techniques." Environmental Sociology. DOI:10.1080/23251042.2020.1794426

  • 2019. Comi, Matt "'The right hybrid for every acre': Assembling the social worlds of corn and soy seed selling in conventional agricultural techniques." Sociologia Ruralis 59(1) pp 159-176. DOI: 10.1111/soru.12227
    *Recipient, ASA Robert Boguslaw Award

Food, Culture, + Community Resilience

    Project Summary

    This research stream examines the links between food, culture, and community resilience in rural and (sub)urban places. My research examines multiple levels of the food production chain and this research specifically examines the material and cultural components of commensality and convivality. Recent work in this area draws from event-based participant observation in rural Kansas to identify ways shared food at community fairs can produce conviviality and resilience in flagging small towns throughout the rural US Midwest.

    Related Grants and Awards

  • 2019. Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) Alex McIntosh Paper Award
  • Related Publications

  • 2021 Comi, Matt and Ruth Stamper. "Chicken Noodle Night: Conviviality, Resilience, and Food at the Vinland Fair." Food Culture and Society Special Issue ed. Bonnie Miller. DOI: 10.1080/15528014.2021.1873033"



    Studying sociology relies on a critical curiosity. I see my primary teaching goal as supporting student's own development as independent, inquisitive, thinkers more ready to engage in their classroom, workplaces, and home communities. I create accessible and equitable spaces where students gain skills to ask critical questions about their worlds and find answers to produce better, more equal and sustainable futures. To do this I focus on project based learning: approaching students as collaborators involved in making knowledge. I am prepared to teach a range of courses in sociology and environmental studies.

    Areas Prepared to Teach

  • Environment + Society
  • Rural Studies
  • Agriculture and Food
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Cultural Sociology
  • Theory
  • Research Methods (Qualitative and Quantitative)


    Courses Previously Taught

  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Social Problems
  • Understanding Kansas Landscapes [Interdisciplinary Environmental Research Methods]
  • Self and Society
  • Courses Assisted

  • Varieties of the Human Experience [Intro to Cultural Anthropology]
  • Field Ecology
  • Environmental Studies Senior Capstone
  • Other Pedagogical Experience

  • Research Mentor. Haskell Environmnetal Research Studies [HERS] Program *
  • Graduate Writing Consultant. KU Writing Center
  • Office of Multicultural Affairs Safe Space Training

email + researchgate + twitter + google scholar + download full CV