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Technoscience and Environmental Justice

Technoscience and Environmental Justice: Expert Cultures in a Grassroots Movement

Gwen Ottinger
Benjamin Cohen
afterword by Kim Fortun
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Technoscience and Environmental Justice
    Book Description:

    Over the course of nearly thirty years, the environmental justice movement has changed the politics of environmental activism and influenced environmental policy. In the process, it has turned the attention of environmental activists and regulatory agencies to issues of pollution, toxics, and human health as they affect ordinary people, especially people of color. This book argues that the environmental justice movement has also begun to transform science and engineering. The chapters present case studies of technical experts' encounters with environmental justice activists and issues, exploring the transformative potential of these interactions. Technoscience and Environmental Justice first examines the scientific practices and identities of technical experts who work with environmental justice organizations, whether by becoming activists themselves or by sharing scientific information with communities. It then explore scientists' and engineers' activities in such mainstream scientific institutions as regulatory agencies and universities, where environmental justice concerns have been (partially) institutionalized as a response to environmental justice activism. All of the chapters grapple with the difficulty of transformation that experts face, but the studies also show how environmental justice activism has created opportunities for changing technical practices and, in a few cases, has even accomplished significant transformations.The hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29840-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Environmental Justice and the Transformation of Science and Engineering
    (pp. 1-18)
    Benjamin Cohen and Gwen Ottinger

    For nearly thirty years, the environmental justice (EJ) movement has been engaged in what Cole and Foster (2001) describe as “transformative politics.” In the course of agitating to correct inequities in the distribution of environmental hazards, the movement has transformed the victims of environmental injustices, turning formerly quiescent minority and low-income neighborhoods into organized, politically engaged communities, and residents once intimidated by powerful corporations and state institutions into outspoken, politically savvy advocates for their communities. Environmental justice activism has also played a role in changing environmental policy, as U.S. agencies have been forced to consider the health and environmental consequences...

  5. Part I: Forging Environmentally Just Expertise

    • 1 Who Are the Experts of Environmental Health Justice?
      (pp. 21-40)
      Scott Frickel

      The environmental justice movement (EJM) lost a long-trusted ally when Marvin Legator died at his home in Galveston, Texas, in July 2005, and science lost a pioneering researcher and institutional trailblazer. In an obituary, Jonathan Ward, who until 2009 directed the University of Texas Medical Branch, Division of Environmental Toxicology (founded by Legator in 1976), describes his former colleague as “an unusual man,” the characterization in reference to Legator’s hybrid identity as an accomplished scientist and devoted activist (“Obituary for Marvin S. Legator” 2005).

      Legator’s accomplishments in science are clear. He held advanced degrees in biochemistry and microbial genetics from...

    • 2 From Science-Based Legal Advocacy to Community Organizing: Opportunities and Obstacles to Transforming Patterns of Expertise and Access
      (pp. 41-62)
      Karen Hoffman

      In the mid-1970s, a group of concerned citizens formed an environmental organization, the Clean Air and Water Network, to watchdog the implementation and enforcement of the then-new Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws, in a large metropolitan area of the United States.¹ The organization was small, consisting of a few scientists and lawyers. Their project—keeping tabs on the regulatory system as it was in formation—was massive and socially and technically complex. It was also challenging in that it attempted to change social relations that allowed industries to evade government regulations intended to prevent pollution...

    • 3 Toxic Transformations: Constructing Online Audiences for Environmental Justice
      (pp. 63-92)
      Jason Delborne and Wyatt Galusky

      The emergence of web-based communication media devoted to the dissemination of data on pollution and risk to affected communities presents an opportunity to transform political contestations about environmental justice. In particular, governmental and nongovernmental organizations have leveraged the digital availability of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) database with web-based mechanisms to publicize comparatively large polluters. As Fung and O’Rourke (2000) have argued, the public availability and accessibility of TRI created pressure on polluters, often generated in the corporations themselves, to reduce emission numbers that were high relative to industrial competitors. This kind of “regulation by shaming,” while not perfect, did...

    • 4 Experts, Ethics, and Environmental Justice: Communicating and Contesting Results from Personal Exposure Science
      (pp. 93-118)
      Rachel Morello-Frosch, Phil Brown, Julia Green Brody, Rebecca Gasior Altman, Ruthann A. Rudel, Ami Zota and Carla Pérez

      For nearly two decades, environmental justice advocates have pioneered innovative and strategic collaborations on scientific research to answer challenging environmental health questions. Very often the issues addressed are firmly situated in the realms of scientific uncertainty and contestation (Jasanoff 1987), as scientists and advocates generate and disseminate different forms of scientific data and expert knowledge aimed at (re)shaping environmental policy and regulation. The rapidly expanding field of personal exposure assessment and biomonitoring is an emerging epicenter of contested knowledge in environmental health. As environmental justice communities work with researchers to document the sources and pathways of chemical trespass in their...

    • 5 Middle-out Social Change: Expert-Led Development Interventions in Sri Lanka’s Energy Sector
      (pp. 119-146)
      Dean Nieusma

      This chapter introduces the concept ofmiddle-out social change, both as an alternative to top-down and bottom-up approaches to environmental justice and as an analytic lever to open up “expertise” and its potential role in democratic decision making. In top-down initiatives, experts typically work on behalf of policymakers in established institutions, enabling the development and implementation of systematic intervention strategies that are, to varying degrees, imposed on organizations, groups, and individuals occupying lower positions in the political hierarchy (Flyvbjerg 1998; Fischer 1990). In contrast, bottom-up or grassroots interventions are initiated outside of powerful institutions and typically entail demands for institutional...

  6. Part II: Extending Just Transformations of Expert Practice

    • 6 Invisible People, Invisible Risks: How Scientific Assessments of Environmental Health Risks Overlook Minorities—and How Community Participation Can Make Them Visible
      (pp. 149-178)
      Maria Powell, Jim Powell, Ly V. Xiong, Kazoua Moua, Jody Schmitz, Benito Juarez Olivas and VamMeej Yang

      Minorities and lower-income people are more likely to be exposed to a variety of environmental health hazards than white people—indeed, this is the essence of environmental injustice (Bullard 2000; Harris and Harper 1998; Lopez 2002; Mohai and Bryant 1992). Scientific and government institutions play important roles in constructing what we know and do not know about environmental risk disparities, and the ways these “knowns” and “unknowns” in turn shape scientific, political, and public attention to environmental injustices (Kuehn 1996; Stocking 1998; Wynne 2001). Institutional risk-assessment and communication approaches, typically embedded in Western European–based scientific cultures, are often blind...

    • 7 Risk Assessment and Native Americans at the Cultural Crossroads: Making Better Science or Redefining Health?
      (pp. 179-200)
      Jaclyn R. Johnson and Darren J. Ranco

      Environmental justice (EJ) activists and communities have offered many valuable critiques of environmental scientific management over the last thirty years. In the realm of environmental risk assessment, these critiques have led to some new practices and uses for science and engineering in the service of EJ concerns, such as mapping the unequal distribution and impact of environmental “harms” in our society (see Harris and Harper 1997; Allen 2003). These new uses for environmental science go hand and hand with an emerging science community with origins in EJ communities as well as science activists seeking out a worthwhile cause for their...

    • 8 Uneven Transformations and Environmental Justice: Regulatory Science, Street Science, and Pesticide Regulation in California
      (pp. 201-228)
      Raoul S. Liévanos, Jonathan K. London and Julie Sze

      The San Joaquin Valley of California is world renowned for its industrial agricultural production (Pulido 1996). Three counties in the southern portion of the Valley—Fresno, Kern, and Tulare—are consistently the top three in agricultural production and export in the United States. This prominent status of the Valley and of these three counties is facilitated by a mild Mediterranean climate; Romanesque irrigation systems and surface water delivery schemes; the industrial applications of pesticides; and the exploitation of an inexpensive, often sociopolitically isolated, immigrant farm labor population (Cole and Foster 2001; Harrison 2006, 2008; London, Sze and Liévanos 2008; Pulido...

    • 9 Rupturing Engineering Education: Opportunities for Transforming Expert Identities through Community-Based Projects
      (pp. 229-248)
      Gwen Ottinger

      Transformations of scientific activities and approaches have been a central focus of the studies collected in this book. The chapters consider movement toward and barriers to, for example, new ethics for reporting results of biomedical research to study participants (Morello-Frosch et al.) and revised frameworks for assessing the risks posed to minority communities by environmental contamination (Johnson and Ranco; Powell and Powell). But in addition to analyzing shifts in what scientists and engineersdo, these studies point to shifting relationships between technical practitioners and other participants in environmental justice advocacy. In the process of acting differently—feeding biomonitoring results directly...

  7. Afterword: Working “Faultlines”
    (pp. 249-262)
    Kim Fortun

    Pioneering science studies scholar Sharon Traweek has taught us to forever be on the lookout for intersections where people with different backgrounds, perspectives, skills, and status come together. These intersections are like faultlines, the lines between tectonic plates where earthquakes are likely to happen as the plates move past one another. Traweek’s geological metaphor is apt. Faultlines are significant intellectually and politically because they are sites where change is likely to originate, possibly transforming entire landscapes. Focusing analytical attention on “faultlines” is thus a way to understand and even help stimulate change.

    The editors and authors of this book have...

  8. References
    (pp. 263-288)
  9. About the Authors
    (pp. 289-292)
  10. Index
    (pp. 293-299)
  11. Series List
    (pp. 300-302)