Kristin K. Smith

Social science research for rural communities


Rural Livelihoods
Economic Geography
Natural Resource Development

Rural, remote communities are places of possibility and constraint. These geographies are often the most vulnerable to economic and political forces beyond their control. Yet, they are also sites of innovation, adaptation, and community experimentation. My research explores these tensions.

As a PhD Candidate in the Resources & Communities Research Group at Montana State University, I conduct social science research on rural transformations, community resilience, and the political economy. My research sits at the intersection of economic geography, natural resource development, and community development.

Academic heroes: Scholars who problematize our myths of the rural (think William Cronon and Patricia Limerick), political ecologists like Paul Robbins, J.K. Gibson - Graham

Key research themes: social impacts of resource development, rural capacity, community resilience & path dependency, devolvement & governance, role of empathy in research methods, expanding our definition of “economic development”

In 2018 I was awarded a two-year USDA NIFA Pre-doctoral Fellowship (Proposal #2017-07020) to continue my research on how oil and gas development shapes community resilience in the Bakken.


Ongoing Research Projects

My doctoral research investigates the social impacts of energy development in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, United States (the Bakken shale play). I analyze the interaction between the region’s political economy, the distinct characteristics of unconventional oil and gas development, local governance responses, and other expressions of community agency and resilience. My research draws attention to the hidden labor and inner workings of communities that host oil and gas development.

Communities in action

This participatory research project in Sidney, MT was funded through a USDA NIFA grant (PI: Dr. Julia H. Haggerty). It investigates the strategies communities use to mitigate against undesired impacts from oil and gas development. I have worked with this community group since 2016.

Western Area Water Supply

North Dakota’s Western Area Water Supply project exemplifies both community resilience and economic dependence on resource extraction. My research analyzes this tension with a focus on fiscal decisions.

Boom impacts to Services

The boom stressed communities’ infrastructure and services beyond capacity. This research documents the innovative projects that communities implemented to address impacts to local government services.

Road Infrastructure

This new research project explores how the Bakken boom transformed the region’s road infrastructure, creating new challenges and opportunities for counties, cities, and townships. It is a work in a progres - stay tuned for updates!


Permian Basin Trip

In 1982 Roger M. Olien and Diana Davids Olien published Oil Booms: Social Change in Five Texas Towns. I used their book as a travel guide and visited each of the five towns they wrote about: Midland, Odessa, McCamey, Wink, and Snyder. Check out my research reflections and photos from the trip.


Field Research Photos


“As ‘space’ has become less important in the global economy, ‘place’ has become more important.”

Halser, Ryser, & Markey 2016


My corner of the Twittersphere


Montana State University

Resources & Communities Research Group