Reading environmental justice through a political ecology lens

@ATREE auditorium at 3.45 pm on 6th November 2015


Environmental justice and political ecology are related academic fields that have grown to provide leading approaches to socio-environmental analyses. In addition to commonalities, there are also substantial differences between the two approaches. Recognition, procedural justice and distributive justice form the key elements in the environmental justice literature. Through the lens of political ecology, we here present a critical reading of the treatment of these elements. We also examine the present emphasis on plurality and the focus on communities within environmental justice. For political ecologists, insights may be gained from this reading, but there are also what we see as shortcomings. Paradoxically, at a time when environmental justice scholars seem to be less concerned with distributive justice in terms of economic benefits and burdens, we argue that this is where empirical studies of environmental interventions may gain the most from drawing on justice principles. Furthermore, while recognition and procedural justice represent essential elements to study, we find that the focus on these elements within environmental justice tend to downplay power and structural explanatory factors. We also propose how the notion of recognition may be better specified, and we find that environmental justice seems not to have taken on board the critique of ‘communities’ as homogenous units. Finally, we argue that the current focus on ‘plurality’ may lead to cultural relativism and ignore important causes within the broader political economy.

About the speaker

Tor A. Benjaminsen is a human geographer and a professor of development studies at the Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. He carries out research on environmental change, land use conflicts, and conservation policies and narratives, mostly in Africa, but also more recently in the Norwegian Arctic.