Degree Held:Grete Gansauer

B.S. Forestry, Colorado State University

Degree Sought:

PhD Ecology and Environmental Sciences (Human Geography)


Dr. Julia Haggerty

Research Project:

Dissertation: "Uneven Infrastructure Development in Rural, 'Left Behind' Places of the U.S.: Theory, Policy, Practicalities" 

Abstract: Infrastructure networks such as telecommunications, water, energy, and transportation systems are extremely unevenly developed within and across rural regions of the US. Such patterns indicate and drive widening regional inequalities between urban cores and rural peripheries. This dissertation fills empirical and theoretical gaps to explain the policy and institutional drivers which produce geographically uneven infrastructure development. Using a mixed qualitative methodological approach, I examine implementation, governance ,and policy design in key US infrastructure programs at the local, regional, and national scales respectively. Through a case study of drinking water infrastructure provision in Central Montana, I find that the current policy landscape pushes local social, economic, and environmental capacities to the brink, depleting overall community resilience (Chapter Three). I examine the governance dynamics and institutional structure of the Central Montana Regional Water Authority in Chapter Four and explicate the challenges and opportunities associated with regional-scale infrastructure governance in rural context: specifically, that regional collaboration gains political efficiencies, but is inadequate to patch existing rural capacity constraints. Chapter Five analyses policy design at national scale and develops a novel taxonomy of place-based policies put forward by the Biden Administration. While political rhetoric paints such policies as a generational reinvestment in ‘left behind’ places and their infrastructure systems, I find a division between growth-oriented and social equity-oriented policies which may prevent sustainable reinvestment in peripheralized regions. Chapter Six synthesizes regional studies, economic geography, and critical infrastructure studies literature to form a theoretical framework which explains the geographical and temporal unevenness of infrastructure and fixed capital investment in peripheral regions. This framework forms the basis for policy implementation recommendations presented in the Conclusion (Chapter Seven) to maximize recent US infrastructure expenditures’ benefits for rural communities. In all, this dissertation responds to an urgent policy and material need to explain the political-economic drivers which contribute to systemic underprovision of technological infrastructure networks in remote, rural areas—a factor which produces many ‘left behind’ places within peripheral regions. It is hoped that insights provided here might be leveraged to improve federal policy design and governance practice toward more even and social-needs-responsive infrastructure development in rural areas.


  • 2021 - present: Predoctoral Fellow, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
  • 2023: Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellow, National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, 
  • 2024: Visiting Scholar, Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge
  • Beginning August 2024: Postdoctoral Fellow, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, University of Pittsburgh


Peer-reviewed publications

Gansauer, G., Haggerty, J.H., Smith, K.K., Haggerty, M.N., Roemer, K.F. (2023). “Can infrastructure help ‘left behind’ regions ‘catch up’? Theorizing the role of built infrastructure in regional development.” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 17:1.

Gansauer, G., Haggerty, J.H., Dunn, J. (2023). “Public water system governance in rural Montana, USA: A ‘slow drip’ on community resilience”. Society and Natural Resources. pp. 1-20.

Haggerty, J.H., Dunn, J., Gansauer, G., Ewing, S., & Metcalf, E. (2021). “Social memory and infrastructure governance: A century in the life of a rural drinking water system.” Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability 1(3). 10.1088/2634-4505/ac26d1

Gansauer, G., & Haggerty, J.H. (2021). “Beyond city limits: Infrastructural-regionalism in rural Montana, USA.” Territory, Politics, Governance. pp. 1-19.