The cultural politics of environmental justice activism: race and environment-making in the contemporary post-civil rights period Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Allen, Kimberly Renee
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • This dissertation treats the environmental arena as a new terrain of racial struggle in the contemporary post-civil rights period. Increasing numbers of Americans are organizing in defense of the health and well being of their communities in the name of environmental justice as they contribute to its formation as a social movement. In the United States, particularly in the southeastern region, the focus of the environmental justice movement is 'environmental racism'. Coined by activists, environmental racism refers to racism in environmental decision-making. Collectively, environmental justice proponents have refashioned environmental discourses to reflect changing awareness of how air, water and soil are subject to institutionalized racial discrimination. Using material generated principally from ethnographic participant observation and interviews, this dissertation describes how meanings of 'environment' and race-based identities in the contemporary period are being shaped in the environmental justice movement as it is in dialogue with the mainstream environmental movement, but not, surprisingly, one of the best known civil rights organizations. This dissertation points out how race forms in particular sites--in this case, the environmental justice movement. It argues against deterministic theories that claim social position, namely race, accounts for why blacks and other people of color maintain an environmental justice perspective. Instead, it advances a social practice approach to explain why for example, some African Americans act from an environmental justice perspective while others tend toward a view common in the general American public--environmentally concerned, but inactive. At the collective level environmental justice groups are primary sites where black Americans develop environmental concern, action and environmental identities. At the personal level of self-making, environmental justice proponents, both black and white, attempt to make sense of their relationship to the environment as they actively figure themselves in relation to collectively produced racialized environmental concerns, actions and identities. The ongoing, changing environmental justice movement is a medium in which personal affect, racial meaning and understanding, and action toward the environment develops for growing numbers of Americans.
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  • In Copyright
  • Holland, Dorothy
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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