- All Subjects: environmental justice
- Creators: Adamson, Joni
- Member of: Theses and Dissertations
- Status: Published
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.
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.
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.
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.