Inequality, justice, and the politics of making "good" coastal science

Authors: Monica Barra*, University of South Carolina
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Environmental Science, United States
Keywords: Science and Technology Studies, Race and Inequality, Climate Change, Ethnography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Washington 5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As critical social scientists concerned with identifying and understanding the structural mechanisms that produce racial, class, and gendered inequality, it is crucial that we complicate one-dimensional understandings of rising seas, sinking land, and environmental good within dominate discourses of climate change science and adaptation practices. Yet, in our efforts to understand experiences and structural mechanisms of racial and class oppression within climate change science and practice, we often neglect to treat the scientific structures that produce forms of colorblind or agnostic adaptation as populated with complex individuals who carry ethical standpoints, doubts, and beliefs related to questions of power and inequality. That is, we frequently neglect studying-up as an aspect of how we understand the everyday reproduction, or deconstruction, of structural inequities within the institutions that produce climate change knowledge.

Drawing from long-term ethnographic research among scientists participating in the research and construction of large-scale coastal restoration projects that threaten to displace several communities of color in south Louisiana, this paper will explore how scientists charged with developing climate change adaptation techniques and technologies understand the ethical and political dilemmas their seemingly “good science” encounters in the service of confronting climate change. In particular, I will focus on the ways physical and engineering scientists understand the political stakes of their research in the face of its uncertain and unequal impacts on marginalized communities and how scientists navigate questions of social justice and scientific integrity as they are enrolled by state officials to confront land loss in coastal Louisiana.

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