Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy and Leadership

First Advisor

McNew-Birren, Jill

Second Advisor

Wichowsky, Amber

Third Advisor

Gibson, Melissa


While lead-based paint has long been considered the primary source of lead exposure in Milwaukee, activists and community organizers have been vocal in their belief that aging lead-water infrastructure has been and continues to be a significant source of environmental lead. As such, grassroots coalitions have formed to advocate for allocation of substantial resources in order to remediate lead-water infrastructure in the city. This dissertation follows a three-article format to explore understanding of, and engagement in, lead water concerns in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The introductory chapter provides a brief overview including the purpose of this study, background information on the dangers of lead, and the regulation of lead-water infrastructure as well as the theoretical frameworks that guide analysis. Chapter two examines how bureaucratic insiders and outsiders use science to perceive risk and considers issues of shared responsibility in mitigating this public health risk. Chapter three explores how grassroots coalitions engage in the policy-making process as it relates to lead in water concerns, as well as whose contributions are considered legitimate in the policy forums. Chapter four considers how scientific knowledge is utilized and/or produced to engage in deliberative or activist methods of engagement in socio-political contexts. Holistically, this dissertation explores how the complex intersections of risk perception, scientific literacy, public understanding of science, and civic engagement activities occur in the lives of stakeholders. The findings demonstrate a correlation between participatory governance and influence. Implications for public engagement in policy-making, scientific literacy and risk perception are discussed.



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