“Environmental Justice & Deep Intersectionality” for special issue of Environmental Sociology

Guest Editors:
Stephanie A. Malin, Ph.D. & Stacia S. Ryder, MA
Colorado State University


Environmental sociologists have found that environmental risks are inequitably distributed within and between communities in the U.S. and internationally, where locally-undesirable land uses (LULUs) (Freudenburg 1993) concentrate among under-served and marginalized populations (see Bell and York 2010; Brown 2007; Mohai, Roberts, and Pellow 2009; Pellow 2001, 2002, 2012). Environmental Justice (EJ) scholars analyze the ways in which social inequalities link with environmental inequalities (Brulle and Pellow 2006; Bullard 1994, 2005), and pay increasing attention to dynamics like procedural equity in processes such as land use decision-making (Lake 1996; Sze and London 2008; Malin 2015).  Scholars define EJ in a few ways, including: feeling safe “where we live, work, and play” (Taylor 2000); the equitable distribution of environmental benefits, risks, and hazards across society (Bullard 1994; Lake 1996; Schlosberg 2004); or even the rebuilding of our political-economic system to drastically reduce environmental ‘bads’ throughout society (Faber 2008).

EJ scholars have long articulated that environmental inequalities result from complex causal webs, experienced in multiple ways from various social positions. Access to environmental goods – and exposure to environmental bads – can often be affected by an array of social variables, including race/ethnicity, gender, socio-economic class, age, nationality, geographic location, legal status, and structural political-economic contexts. In other words, instances of environmental injustice and people’s daily experiences with them are likely shaped and structured by multiple intersecting variables.

While recent work has examined EJ’s relationships to long-term processes such as land use decision-making (Sze and London 2008; Malin 2015) and more rigorous attempts to represent multiple notions of EJ (Schlosberg 2013; Harrison 2014), the field would benefit from more systematic theory-building. Further, while EJ research and researchers now include a wider variety of international perspectives, even more space should be created for analyses from the Global South and Indigenous communities. We propose that intersectionality may provide the tools to strengthen and create more space for these areas of EJ research – while recognizing the need to interrogate the very utility of intersectionality in this context. This Special Issue provides the long-overdue space for such an exploration.

Indeed, intersectionality may provide a useful frame through which to analyze EJ communities, activism, and various global iterations of environmental injustice, experienced through multiple social variables across time. But even this remains to be seen. There are internal contradictions to the theoretical application of intersectionality, which calls for scholars to recognize diversity while simultaneously utilizing homogenous categories to draw generalized conclusions about experiences of oppression. The robust application of intersectionality to EJ research thus depends on a critical evaluation – both theoretically and practically – of the utility of intersectionality to analyze and advance EJ research.

Call for Papers

We suggest that innovative applications of intersectionality may provide promising toolkits to advance the field of EJ research, adding analytical robustness that until now has been lacking.  Of course, a few important exceptions exist, including Krauss’ work (1993), where she examines various ways in which intersecting social identities affect women’s EJ activism.  Yet, more systematic connections are needed. The field requires richer and more varied applications of intersectionality to determine its utility in EJ contexts, especially assessing its effectiveness and flexibility across geographical and social spaces.  A critical question becomes: Are concepts of intersectionality themselves rigorous enough, clear enough, to be given this large theoretical responsibility, specifically in EJ research? If so, what do they begin to show us about layers of environmental injustice in marginalized spaces? Or about environmental injustices emerging in surprising ways?

Intersectional theorists frequently argue that “interlocking structures of oppression” work simultaneously and impact people differently based on several facets of their identity, most notably race, gender, and class (Collins 1993 p. 26, Crenshaw 2006). Geographic positionality is an additional imperative factor in evaluating spatial inequalities, or the unequal distribution of the costs and benefits of the relationship between society and the environment. On global, national, and local levels, resource access, allocation, dialogue, management, ownership, and control have historically been dominated by a relatively narrow segment of society possessing the desired suite of social identifiers: white, wealthy, heteronormative men from the urban Global North. Furthermore, this is often at the expense of others. EJ scholars have shown us how environmental hazards are habitually pushed to society’s margins, affecting the most vulnerable people and communities ‘first and worst’. Yet, these two deeply connected observations have yet to be systematically linked or theoretically tested by social scientists. Consequently, there is much more to critically analyze at the convergence of multiple forms of identity, lived experiences, intersecting structures of oppression, and subjugated knowledge in the context of environmental injustice.

To build and advance intersectionality and theories of EJ, we propose a Special Issue that examines intersectional approaches to environmental justice —that is, an issue dedicated to developing theoretical and empirical tools to measure the extent to which ‘interlocking systems of oppression’ shape EJ experiences. We aim for this special issue to present varied perspectives of the multiple ways people experience environmental injustice – from the Global South, from rural communities, from sacrifice zones, and from other marginalized and invisible spaces and social positions. We want authors to explore how environmental inequality manifests across and within stratified populations, across continents, nations, states, cities, cultures, times, and intersecting identities across social scales.

This issue aims to address the lack of intersectional approaches to EJ, while simultaneously creating space for a critical appraisal of intersectionality’s utility in this context. Manuscripts may focus on: 1) critical analyses of applying intersectional theory or methodology to EJ issues and cases; 2) analyses of intersecting “systems of oppression” and their relationships to empirical environmental injustices in the following contexts: natural or technological disaster; sustainable development programmes; extraction; energy development; agriculture; waste storage; industrial production; or environmental governance; OR 3) intersecting forms of structural inequality, such as community-level natural resource dependence, that may create or exacerbate environmental injustice in relation to long-term land use decisions.

For example, you may want to analyze the multiple forms of marginalization related to extractive industries like mining. Often, these extractive industries are located in rural, persistently poor communities that are constrained to continue pursuing ‘boom-bust’ prone economic development strategies. Individual-level traits like race, class, and gender further shape and refine the micro-level experiences of environmental injustices in extractive communities.  Yet the EJ implications remain under-analyzed, as do advancements in EJ theory and application of intersectionality.

Submission Dates

Abstract deadline:  October 21

Decisions sent to authors: November 4

Full papers due & submitted to Environmental Sociology:  February 1 2017

R1s due to Environmental Sociology:  June 2017

R2s due to Environmental Sociology:  October 2017

Publication Date:   First half of 2018

Submissions and Questions

All submissions and questions should be directed to Stephanie.Malin@colostate.edu and Stacia.S.Ryder@gmail.com