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.
Prisons and Other Maladies of the Racist State: Reading Blood in my Eye in the Era of Mass Incarcerationby Dan Berger
Our “Reading Racial Conflict” series continues with a reflection on the evolution of mass incarceration policies. Dan Berger engages the present through George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye. Published posthumously in 1972 after Jackson’s death in a prison revolt he led, the book engages the intersection of race, imprisonment, and capitalism as it appeared in an earlier polarized period in the United States. Berger suggests Jackson’s work may be newly relevant in a political moment in which the slow reversal of mass incarceration strategies may itself be reversed in the current administration.
Antonio La Viña continues the “Just Environments” series with an analysis of climate justice challenges and opportunities, particularly from the perspective of vulnerable countries, in light of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The framing of issues of mitigation and adaptation to climate change in terms of justice—assistance, liability, and accountability—is now part of the global debate. Though the absence of the United States from global climate processes is less than ideal, La Viña suggests that this opening can provide opportunities to address climate justice and for other countries to emerge as global leaders.
Ho-fung Hung makes the case for the continued relevance of comparative-historical sociology to our “Interdisciplinarity Now” theme. In ways related Steinmetz’s earlier contribution to the series, Hung illustrates the multiple ways in which the combination of historical work with a macrosociological framework yields deep insights into long-term processes that generate inequality and the responses to it. He also argues that this long-term and large-scale perspective is critical in the formation of policies and the strategies of social movements that pursue progressive social change.
Nikhil Anand’s contribution to the “Just Environments” series examines the making of urban inequality, focusing on water infrastructure as a key site for banal yet fundamentally political decision-making that neglects or harms poor citizens. In both Flint and Mumbai, environmental injustice is generated through bureaucratic routines that rarely take into account the humans they affect. Challenging these injustices, Anand argues, requires engaging in the "boring" technopolitics of infrastructure.
Julian Agyeman’s contribution to the “Just Environments” series calls for the planning, design, and maintenance of culturally inclusive spaces, highlighting the ways in which the built environment can facilitate spatial justice. In doing so, he argues for the need to focus on interculturalism—that is, cross-cultural overlap, interaction, and negotiation—as a means of transforming cities into more just and inclusive ones.