Manuel Pastor’s contribution to the “Just Environments” series interrogates how social movement organizations, often led by communities of color, pushed for progressive reforms in California. Through a set of sophisticated tactics—including mobilizing new constituents, marshalling research, proposing new policies, and working with political figures—these organizations played critical roles in shaping more equitable and sustainable agendas. Pastor suggests the success and lessons associated with California’s story offer one path out of our current national state of racial, environmental, and economic anxiety.
In this “Just Environments” essay, Ebunoluwa Popoola examines the transfer of environmental lawsuits from Nigerian courts to European ones as a means of circumventing legal obstacles at the national level. Communities in the Niger Delta face multiple barriers when suing multinational oil companies in Nigerian courts, in part because of high costs, delays, and a restrictive interpretation of legal standing. Moving these cases to foreign jurisdictions, where the multinational companies are based, has been one avenue through which environmental justice has been achieved.
Michael Dawson and Megan Ming Francis, curators for and contributors to the “Reading Racial Conflict” series, conclude the series with a set of reflections on the ways RRC authors bring the deep lessons from classic works in the political economy of race to bear on the present. They call attention to key themes that cut cross the essays: the persistence of violence visited on and the demonization of African Americans; the place of race in the development of capitalism and class formation; how capitalist development and racism deepen divides between the white and black working classes; class divisions within the black community; and how the intersections of race and capital shape inequalities globally.
As Puerto Rico faces hurricane-induced devastation, the “Just Environments” series publishes an essay by Alexa Dietrich, Adriana María Garriga-López, and Claudia Sofía Garriga-López situating the current catastrophe within a broader historical context. Viewing it as an unnatural disaster, the authors point to a confluence of postcolonial industrialization, lax environmental regulation, and the privatization of utilities, which have all contributed to the island’s deteriorating infrastructure. Moving forward, they advocate for sustainable economic development and reliable public services as means of strengthening already-existing resilient and adaptive capacities.
David Pellow continues the “Just Environments” series with a critique of prisons as sites of environmental racism and climate change. Facing exposure to contaminated land, water, and toxic substances, prisoners—who are predominantly poor and nonwhite—are subject to increased environmental risks, compounding the vulnerability and marginalization they experience through other social, political, and economic forces. One potential way to highlight these injustices is to collaborate across social movements—for instance, if campaigns directed at environmental and racial justice work together to tackle complex, intersectional issues.
The first step in research on “just environments,” writes Julie Sze, is to name the sources of the problems at the root of the poverty/injustice/environment nexus, rather than their impacts alone. By revisiting the history of the terms environmental racism, environmental justice/injustice, and environmental inequality, Sze demonstrates how the specificity of each term led to different research questions and approaches. In order to align public understanding of environmental problems and possible “solutions,” Sze argues that scholars must clarify the roots of environmental problems―for instance, racism, capitalism, and colonialism.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Christopher Karpowitz and Tali Mendelberg analyze the gender dynamics of small groups that discuss political issues. Based on experimental research they conducted, in which they varied the gender composition and decision rules of the groups, the authors found that women’s views and the kinds of issues most pertinent to them were typically ignored when women were in the minority, and when group decisions were majoritarian rather than consensus-based. Karpowitz and Mendelberg consider how the microdynamics of small groups might relate to the large-scale inequalities that research has shown regarding political influence among different social groups.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Jan-Werner Müller argues that attention to right-wing populist movements gaining attention in Europe and the United States can both over- and underestimate their political importance and impact. For Müller, such movements are best understood not by their “anti-elitist” tendencies, but rather by their antipluralist claims to represent the “real people.” He also emphasizes how the rise of right-wing populism is inseparable from the degree to which they are enabled by more mainstream conservative parties, and refers to Austria as a counterexample in which the mainstream right rejected populist extremism.
Veronica Herrera continues the “Just Environments” series by examining the ways in which low-income communities that are impacted by toxic contamination mobilize grassroots movements as forms of resistance and vehicles for claims-making. Focusing on neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and Bogotá, Herrera notes that community residents partner with better-resourced actors to frame environmental protections as legal rights, effectively forging new types of environmental citizenship.
Over the next months, Items will publish essays based on research presented at a spring workshop on the theme “Democratic Participation: A Broken Promise?” cosponsored by the SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program’s Participation group and the German-based Democratic Anxieties. Here, Larry Bartels, cochair of the AOD Participation group, draws on recent work on the extent to which established democracies are disproportionately responsive to the preferences of their wealthiest citizens. While this is not news for observers of the United States, Bartels finds very similar patterns across what are often assumed to be the more egalitarian democracies of Europe.