Confronting structures of power in biophysical research

Type: Paper
Theme: Geographies of Access: Inclusion and Pathways
Sponsor Groups:
Organizers: Melanie Malone
Chairs: Melanie Malone

Call for Submissions



Description

Numerous studies have now shown that systemic racism, social inequities, public health crises, and other societal issues are often reflected in the environment (Berland et al., 2015; McClintock, 2015; Pellow, 2016; Pulido, 2016; Schell et al., 2020). Even though the solutions to fix environmental issues are widely known (e.g. the precautionary principle, reducing pollution, setting limits on water withdraws, not using pesticides, reducing air emissions that contribute to climate change and health disparities), these issues persist because of power dynamics, politics, and inequalities that continually influence scientific findings and the way research is conducted. Scientific findings are often bent to serve political agendas (Sarewitz, 2004) rather than to address the environmental problems and injustices at hand, and much biophysical research on the environment is published as though the source(s) of the problem are unknown or cannot be directly addressed because of hegemonic and literal power structures. Scientists are often aware that they work in political environments and that their research will have political ramifications that they have to navigate in order to conduct their research and report their findings (500 Women Scientists Leadership, 2020). Furthermore, their recommendations, as well as how they conduct their research, who they conduct their research with, and what they eventually report, is often mired by hostile environments in which they work, and they have to be strategic about each step of the process. This is particularly true for researchers who are black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), who not only have to navigate these complex situations in their research, but also continually fight for their right to do the research (Pew Research Center, 2018). But the need to do biophysical research that confronts these systems of power and politics is pressing. Paradoxically we are at a moment of unprecedented impacts from climate change, while we are also at a moment where the current U.S. administration has recently rolled back 100 environmental protections (Popovich et al., 2019) and humans have failed to meet any requirements to stop the destruction of the planet (Global Biodiversity Outlook, 2020).

The time to implement biophysical research that addresses critical theory and social and environmental justice is now. Current events and the state of the environment cannot simply be dismissed as a sacrifice we have to make for living in the time of the Anthropocene. A number of scholars (Chiapella et al., 2019; Cram, 2011; Lave et al., 2014; Malone & Polyakov, 2019; Saed, 2012; Schell et al., 2020) have published how power structures impact and influence the interpretations of biophysical research, and have opened the door to other researchers to be reflective about the interpretations of their data and how it can be used to push regulators and activists into improving the environment in equitable ways. This work entails biophysical research in soil science, geomorphology, urban ecology and wildlife, spatial GIS science, nuclear waste, contaminants, agriculture, and water, and engages with critical theories that draw from Critical Physical Geography, political ecology, neoliberalism, Marxism, and environmental justice among many others. Yet, more research needs to be done on how to navigate and understand the ways in which power influences biophysical research, as well as strategies for confronting it during research. Beyond the complex nature of doing research that integrates critical social theories and biophysical research, doing such research is challenging because of the social tensions that arise while doing it, as well the potential political ramifications of publishing research that provokes many, including stakeholders, municipal governments, and sometimes even the institutions in which we work.

This panel is interested in papers that address how to navigate and confront systems of power in biophysical research. It is especially interested in researchers whose work also involves those outside the academy (e.g. community partners, those involved in community science, stakeholder populations, and populations who have been marginalized). The panel will discuss strategies that researchers have used in order to do their research and tactics for successfully sharing their results in the face of adversity. Researchers from all disciplinary backgrounds are welcome and encouraged to participate.

Please send abstracts for this paper session to Melanie Malone at drmalone@uw.edu by October 18. We anticipate organizing one or more virtual and/or in-person sessions. Indicate in your submission if you plan to attend in person, virtually, or if you are still unsure.

After we notify you of your selection in this session, you must register and submit your official abstract to AAG prior to the deadline (http://annualmeeting.aag.org/). You must also send your PIN to Melanie Malone at drmalone@uw.edu.

References
Berland, A., Schwarz, K., Herrmann, D., & Hopton, M. (2015). How Environmental Justice Patterns are Shaped by Place: Terrain and Tree Canopy in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Cities and the Environment (CATE), 8(1). https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cate/vol8/iss1/1
Chiapella, A. M., Grabowski, Z. J., Rozance, M. A., Denton, A. D., Alattar, M. A., & Granek, E. F. (2019). Toxic Chemical Governance Failure in the United States: Key Lessons and Paths Forward. BioScience, 69(8), 615–630. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz065
Cram, S. (2011). Escaping S-102: Waste, Illness, and the Politics of Not Knowing. International Journal of Science in Society, 2(1), 243–252. https://doi.org/10.18848/1836-6236/CGP/v02i01/51509
Global Biodiversity Outlook (2020). World fails to meet a single target to stop destruction of nature – UN report. (2020, September 15). The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/15/every-global-target-to-stem-destruction-of-nature-by-2020-missed-un-report-aoe
500 Women Scientists. (2020. Silence Is Never Neutral; Neither Is Science. Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/silence-is-never-neutral-neither-is-science/
Lave, R., Wilson, M. W., Barron, E. S., Biermann, C., Carey, M. A., Duvall, C. S., Johnson, L., Lane, K. M., McClintock, N., Munroe, D., Pain, R., Proctor, J., Rhoads, B. L., Robertson, M. M., Rossi, J., Sayre, N. F., Simon, G., Tadaki, M., & Van Dyke, C. (2014). Intervention: Critical physical geography. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe Canadien, 58(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1111/cag.12061
Malone, M., & Polyakov, V. (2019). A physical and social analysis of how variations in no-till conservation practices lead to inaccurate sediment runoff estimations in agricultural watersheds. Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment, 0309133319873115. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309133319873115
McClintock, N. (2015). A critical physical geography of urban soil contamination. Geoforum, 65, 69–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.07.010
Pellow, D. N. (2016). TOWARD A CRITICAL ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE STUDIES: BLACK LIVES MATTER AS AN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE CHALLENGE-CORRIGENDUM. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 13(2), 425–425. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X16000175
Pew Research Center. (2018). Racial diversity and discrimination in the U.S. STEM workforce. (2018, January 9). Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/01/09/blacks-in-stem-jobs-are-especially-concerned-about-diversity-and-discrimination-in-the-workplace/
Popovich, N., Albeck-Ripka, L., & Pierre-Louis, K. (2019, June 2). The Trump Administration Is Reversing 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html
Pulido, L. (2016). Flint, Environmental Racism, and Racial Capitalism. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 27(3), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2016.1213013
Saed. (2012). Urban Farming: The Right to What Sort of City? Capitalism Nature Socialism, 23(4), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2012.724776
Sarewitz, D. (2004). How science makes environmental controversies worse. Environmental Science & Policy, 7(5), 385–403. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2004.06.001
Schell, C. J., Dyson, K., Fuentes, T. L., Roches, S. D., Harris, N. C., Miller, D. S., Woelfle-Erskine, C. A., & Lambert, M. R. (2020). The ecological and evolutionary consequences of systemic racism in urban environments. Science, 369(6510). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aay4497





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