Recognizing Plurality, Heterogeneity and Agency – A Contextualized Approach towards Environmental Justice

Authors: Pearly Wong*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Environment, Global Change, Third World
Keywords: environmental justice, nepal, world-systems theory, unequal ecological exchange, political ecology, cultural ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Rampart, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The paper proposes a framework for environmental justice, which synthesizes distributive justice and recognition of diverse communities with identities and values rooted in their cultural, historical, ecological and discursive contexts. The World-Systems Theory, which initially explains unequal exchange between core and periphery in economic terms (Wallerstein, 1974), has been proven useful to discuss ecological unequal exchange (Foster and Holleman, 2014). However, one aspect, which is the heterogeneity and local agency of the 'periphery', remains absent from the discussion. I draw from the literature on ecosystem services and political ecology in demonstrating the potential complexity, heterogeneity and agency in environmental issues at the local level. I propose a pluralistic, contextualized understanding of justice, which demands critical engagement with place-specific history, culture, state structure, and public discourse (Williams and Mawdsley, 2006). By reflecting on the possible factors at play, I attempt to provide a foundation for researchers and communities to mutually construct their place-based version of environmental justice. These factors include the diversity of impact and experience of environmental conflicts, unequal power in knowledge production, historical structure of inequalities, and unequal information flow, all inextricably linked with the “historical systems” of global power structure as emphasized in the World-Systems Theory. More importantly, the framework calls for the creation of participatory tools and guidelines to incorporate different realities and experiences. The framework will guide my dissertation fieldwork in Nepal.

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