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This is our land [untitled]: community-based environmental activism in the late twentieth century

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This dissertation examines the development of grassroots environmental organizations between 1970 and 2000 and the role they played in the larger American environmental movement and civil society during that period. Much has been written about growth in environmental values in

This dissertation examines the development of grassroots environmental organizations between 1970 and 2000 and the role they played in the larger American environmental movement and civil society during that period. Much has been written about growth in environmental values in the United States during the twentieth century and about the role of national environmental organizations in helping to pass landmark federal-level environmental laws during the 1960s and 1970s. This study illuminates a different story of how citizen activists worked to protect and improve the air, water, healthfulness and quality of life of where they lived. At the local level, activists looked much different than they did in Washington, D.C.--they tended to be volunteers without any formal training in environmental science or policy. They were also more likely to be women than at the national level. They tended to frame environmental issues and solutions in familiar ways that made sense to them. Rather than focusing on the science or economics of an environmental issue, they framed it in terms of fairness and justice and giving citizens a say in the decisions that affected their health and quality of life. And, as the regulatory, political, and social landscape changed around them, they adapted their strategies in their efforts to continue to affect environmental decision making. Over time, they often connected their local interests and issues with more sophisticated, globalized understandings of the economic and political systems that under laid environmental issues. This study examines three case studies in the rural Great Plains, urban Southwest, and small-town Appalachia between 1970 and 2000 in an attempt to understand community-based environmental activism in the late twentieth century, how it related to the national environmental movement, the strategies local-level groups employed and when and why, the role of liberal democratic arguments in their work and in group identity formation, the limits of those arguments, and how the groups, their strategies, and the activists themselves changed overtime. These three groups were the Northern Plains Resource Council in Montana, Southwest Environmental Service in Southern Arizona, and Save Our Cumberland Mountains in Eastern Tennessee.

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2012

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Media Witnessing for Environmental Justice

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Media witnessing and storytelling for environmental justice (EJ) provide an avenue to understand the relationships between “multiple realities of environmental injury” and to analyze “fleeting phenomena with lasting form; thereby transforming phenomena that are experienced in a plurality of lives

Media witnessing and storytelling for environmental justice (EJ) provide an avenue to understand the relationships between “multiple realities of environmental injury” and to analyze “fleeting phenomena with lasting form; thereby transforming phenomena that are experienced in a plurality of lives into publicly recognized history” (Houston, 2012, 419, 422). This creates opportunities to challenge and eradicate the oppressive structures that deem certain individuals and groups disposable and ultimately protect the possessive investment in whiteness. Therefore, for the purposes of EJ, media witnessing creates space for dynamic, citizen-based storytelling which can undermine narratives that promote the life versus economy framework that has perpetuated oppression, injustice, and state sanctioned violence. Media witnessing in an EJ context demonstrates the potential for collective understanding and action, political opportunities, and healing.<br/>This paper is an analysis of the process of media witnessing in regards to the Flint Water Crisis and the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and will apply an EJ lens to this phenomenon. It will discuss how media witnessing in response to these two crises can be used as a precedent for understanding and utilizing this framework and digital storytelling to address the crises of 2020, primarily the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice. It will then examine how the intersectionality of race, gender, and age has implications for future media witnessing and storytelling in the context of EJ movements. Finally, it will explain how media witnessing can motivate holistic policymaking in the favor of EJ initiatives and the health and wellbeing of all Americans, as well as how such policymaking and initiatives must acknowledge the double-edged sword that is social media.

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2021-05

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Environmental justice witnessing in the modernist poetry of Lola Ridge, Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Elizabeth Bishop

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Environmental Justice Witnessing in the Modernist Poetry of Lola Ridge, Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Elizabeth Bishop analyzes the poetic forms used by four modernist American women poets to trace depictions of social oppression that are tied to specific landscapes.

Environmental Justice Witnessing in the Modernist Poetry of Lola Ridge, Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Elizabeth Bishop analyzes the poetic forms used by four modernist American women poets to trace depictions of social oppression that are tied to specific landscapes. My focus is on what I term "environmental justice witnessing," which I define as accounts that testify to experiences of injustices that affect humans and the environments they inhabit. Integrating theories of witnessing, which to date have focused exclusively on humans, with environmental justice criticism, I fashion a lens that highlights the interconnectedness of social and environmental problems. In this way, I theorize the study of texts of witness and how they document the decay, disease, and exploitation of urban and rural landscapes in the twentieth century. In this dissertation, I focus on Lola Ridge's "The Ghetto" (1918), Muriel Rukeyser's "The Book of the Dead" (1938), Gwendolyn Brooks' "In the Mecca" (1968), and poems about Brazil from Elizabeth Bishop's Questions of Travel (1965) and New Poems (1979). I argue that these women poets depict environmental injustices as an inherent facet of social injustice and do so by poetically connecting human bodies to environmental bodies through sound, diction, figurative language, and imagery.

In Environmental Justice Witnessing, I expand arguments made by environmental scholars about the exchange of environmental elements among humans, animals, and landscapes to include the way poets reflect this transfer poetically. The poetry of Ridge, Rukeyser, Brooks, and Bishop allows me to investigate the ways the categories of race, gender, and class, typically thought of as human qualities, are integrally tied to the geographic, national, and cultural bounds in which those categories are formulated. This argument has clear implications on the study of poetry and its environmental contexts as it invites discussions of the transnational conceptions of global citizenship, examinations of the relationships among communities, the environment, and overarching power structures, and arguments surrounding the ways that poetry as art can bring about long-term social and environmental awareness.

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2015

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Feminist decolonial politics of the intangible, environmental movements and the non-human in Mexico

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This study weighs the connection of environmental crisis with race and gender in different cases of environmental crisis and conflicts. The study documents how Indigenous cosmologies and cosmopolitics, and scientific arguments converge in unexpected alliances in the advent of environmental

This study weighs the connection of environmental crisis with race and gender in different cases of environmental crisis and conflicts. The study documents how Indigenous cosmologies and cosmopolitics, and scientific arguments converge in unexpected alliances in the advent of environmental crises. This research focuses on specific instances, or situations related to environmental justice movements addressing the environmental crisis in Mexico (and its convergences to other similar cases). I examine and present a discussion of the research methodologies and methods used to study the ‘environment’ as well as indigenous cosmologies and cosmopolitics. With this, I embark on a research that includes feminist decolonial theory, eco-feminism and material feminisms into a larger project for autonomy and decoloniality.

In particular, I discuss one of the concepts that have caught the attention of those studying race and ethnicity in the Americas: mestizaje as an ordinal principle in the context of Mexico. Also, I discuss the inscriptions of the mestiza body in relation to the materiality of race and gender in the context of Latin America. It is shown how the discourse of mestizaje is tangled with the idea of a modern civilization, such as in the Mexican state. Overall, this research analyzes different responses to environmental crises; from environmental activists, community organizers to plastic artists and scientific experts. Also, it includes a literary analysis of contemporary indigenous literatures to show how state sponsored violence and settler colonialism have an incidence in gender violence by placing the female body close to nature.

As global environmental problems have risen, this research contributes to the understanding of the underlying factors in environmental crises and conflict that have been overlooked. Herein lies an important possibility to reach a broader audience in different disciplines, ranging from indigenous studies to the global politics of human rights. Furthermore, this research aims to contribute to the work of environmental activists, scholars and scientists with regard to the understanding of how different arguments are used in research and advocacy work, and how they can integrate an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach when addressing environmental justice cases.

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2016

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Hydronarratives: water and environmental justice in contemporary U.S., Canadian, and Pakistani literature and cultural representations

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This dissertation examines cultural representations that attend to the environmental and socio-economic dynamics of contemporary water crises. It focuses on a growing, transnational body of “hydronarratives” – work by writers, filmmakers, and artists in the United States, Canada, and

This dissertation examines cultural representations that attend to the environmental and socio-economic dynamics of contemporary water crises. It focuses on a growing, transnational body of “hydronarratives” – work by writers, filmmakers, and artists in the United States, Canada, and the postcolonial Global South that stress the historical centrality of water to capitalism. These hydronarratives reveal the uneven impacts of droughts, floods, water contamination, and sea level rise on communities marginalized along lines of race, class, and ethnicity. In doing so, they challenge narratives of “progress” conventionally associated with colonial, imperialist, and neoliberal forms of capitalism dependent on the large-scale extraction of natural resources.

Until recently, there has been little attention paid to the ways in which literary texts and other cultural productions explore the social and ecological dimensions of water resource systems. In its examination of water, this dissertation is methodologically informed by the interdisciplinary field of the energy humanities, which explores oil and other fossil fuels as cultural objects. The hydronarratives examined in this dissertation view water as a cultural object and its extraction and manipulation, as cultural practices. In doing so, they demonstrate the ways in which power, production, and human-induced environmental change intersect to create social and environmental sacrifice zones.

This dissertation takes an interdisciplinary environmental humanities approach, drawing on fields such as indigenous studies, political ecology, energy studies, cultural geography, and economic theory. It seeks to establish a productive convergence between environmental justice studies and what might be termed “Anthropocene studies.” Dominant narratives of the Anthropocene tend to describe the human species as a universalized, undifferentiated whole broadly responsible for the global environmental crisis. However, the hydronarratives examined in this dissertation “decolonize” this narrative by accounting for the ways in which colonialism, capitalism, and other exploitative social systems render certain communities more vulnerable to environmental catastrophe than others.

By attending to these issues through problem water, this dissertation has significant implications for future research in contemporary, transnational American and postcolonial literary studies, the environmental humanities, and the energy humanities. It demonstrates the potential for a focus on representations of resources in literary texts and other cultural productions to better grasp the inequitable distribution of environmental risk, and instances of resilience on a rapidly changing planet.

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2018

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Disconnected: investigating the social and political conditions shaping Mexico City's air quality regulatory environment

Description

Mexico City has an ongoing air pollution issue that negatively affects its citizens and surroundings with current structural disconnections preventing the city from improving its overall air quality. Thematic methodological analysis reveals current obstacles and barriers, as well as variables

Mexico City has an ongoing air pollution issue that negatively affects its citizens and surroundings with current structural disconnections preventing the city from improving its overall air quality. Thematic methodological analysis reveals current obstacles and barriers, as well as variables contributing to this persistent problem. A historical background reveals current programs and policies implemented to improve Mexico’s City air quality. Mexico City’s current systems, infrastructure, and policies are inadequate and ineffective. There is a lack of appropriate regulation on other modes of transportation, and the current government system fails to identify how the class disparity in the city and lack of adequate education are contributing to this ongoing problem. Education and adequate public awareness can potentially aid the fight against air pollution in the Metropolitan City.

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2018

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The “New Human Condition” in Literature: Climate, Migration, and the Future

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This thesis examines perceptions of climate change in literature through the lens of the environmental humanities, an interdisciplinary field that brings history, ecocriticism, and anthropology together to consider the environmental past, present and future. The project began in Iceland,

This thesis examines perceptions of climate change in literature through the lens of the environmental humanities, an interdisciplinary field that brings history, ecocriticism, and anthropology together to consider the environmental past, present and future. The project began in Iceland, during the Svartárkot Culture-Nature Program called “Human Ecology and Culture at Lake Mývatn 1700-2000: Dimensions of Environmental and Cultural Change”. Over the course of 10 days, director of the program, Viðar Hreinsson, an acclaimed literary and Icelandic Saga scholar, brought in researchers from different fields of study in Iceland to give students a holistically academic approach to their own environmental research. In this thesis, texts under consideration include the Icelandic Sagas, My Antonia by Willa Cather, Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita, and The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. The thesis is supported by secondary works written by environmental humanists, including Andrew Ross, Steve Hartman, Ignacio Sanchez Cohen, and Joni Adamson, who specialize in archeological research on heritage sites in Iceland and/or study global weather patterns, prairie ecologies in the American Midwest, the history of water in the Southwest, and climate fiction. Chapter One, focusing on the Icelandic Sagas and My Antonia, argues that literature from different centuries, different cultures, and different parts of the world offers evidence that humans have been driving environmental degradation at the regional and planetary scales since at least the 1500s, especially as they have engaged in aggressive forms of settlement and colonization. Chapter Two, focused on Tropic of Orange, this argues that global environmental change leads to extreme weather and drought that is increasing climate migration from the Global South to the Global North. Chapter Three, focused on The Water Knife, argues that climate fiction gives readers the opportunity to think about and better prepare for a viable and sustainable future rather than wait for inevitable apocalypse. By exploring literature that depicts and represents climate change through time, environmental humanists have innovated new methods of analysis for teaching and thinking about what humans must understand about their impacts on ecosystems so that we can better prepare for the future.

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2019

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Just Sustainable Food Systems in Maricopa County: Exploring Capitalist Impacts on Ecological and Social Rifts

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The modern food system unsustainably produces both a food surplus and record levels of hunger. Capitalist investment into agriculture disrupted natural cycles and social relations. Marx’s concept of the metabolic rift describes the way capitalist agriculture actively deteriorates the ecology

The modern food system unsustainably produces both a food surplus and record levels of hunger. Capitalist investment into agriculture disrupted natural cycles and social relations. Marx’s concept of the metabolic rift describes the way capitalist agriculture actively deteriorates the ecology (ecological rift) and disenfranchises people from food (social rift) are traced on the global scale. Then these rifts are deeply explored on the local scale of Maricopa County, Arizona to reveal the ways that even local food systems are enmeshed within the global capitalist agricultural food system. Phoenix, AZ, located in Maricopa County, has made commitments to become equitable and sustainable by 2050 in part to address issues facing the local food system. Efforts to achieve this goal (policies and studies) are analyzed using the frameworks of sustainable development (dominant “green”/ market based sustainability) and just sustainabilities (disruptive/ justice oriented sustainability). These frameworks help determine whether local efforts mend the ecological and social rifts created by capitalist agriculture, or actively deepen them. While a few studies may attempt “sustainable” solutions, they may in fact further entrench local agriculture in an unsustainable globalized food system. The efforts that are able to address both rifts, challenging the logic and structures of capitalist agriculture, are lacking in scale. In order for Phoenix to reach its sustainability goals by 2050, the ecological and social rifts must be addressed together. To do this, residents and policy makers must be able to determine between efforts that toy at the edges of capitalist agriculture and those with transformational potential, as they challenge the structures and logic of capitalism, ultimately mending the metabolic rift. While this is being done on a small scale, much more is needed to achieve a truly just and sustainable food system.

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2022