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University of East Anglia Global Environmental Justice Group

Conference Themes

Environmental Justice 2019: Transformative Connections (EJ 2019)

2 – 4 July 2019, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

Please read this background paper for more information about the context of the conference.

Environmental justice (EJ) research has made its key contributions to knowledge through the analysis of connections. The phenomenon of EJ is itself an intersection between a movement and an academic field of inquiry, whilst its primary analytical focus is the connection between social and environmental inequalities. Understanding connections across multiple dimensions of harm and discrimination has been fundamental to revealing the roots of environmental injustices and to building movements to counter these.  Issues of distribution are routinely intertwined with matters of procedure and recognition; economic forces of discrimination systematically go hand in hand with discursive forces; intersections exist between divisions based on class, race, work, species, and gender; local or current analysis of injustice can generally be enriched through global or historical analysis; and environmental activism increasingly spreads across a multitude of connecting issues, including food, water, energy, natural resources, transport, or waste.

Such deep connections are also appearing in research into transformations to sustainability. For example, research into the characteristics of transformational change is beginning to theorise its multi-dimensional, multi-scalar and intersectional attributes. This includes academic-activist movements that oppose current developmentalist orthodoxies whilst also envisioning just transitions into alternative futures that cut across economic, cultural, political and ecological spheres. EJ 2019 will explore recent advances in the understanding of key intersections and will consider how these contribute to the current debates about ‘transformation to sustainability’. How can these directions in EJ scholarship inform debates about transformations? How does the pursuit of environmental justice help to bring about just transformations to sustainability? Does a focus on sustainability pose problems for environmental justice movements? The conference will explore three connective themes that are central to the agendas of both environmental justice and transformations to sustainability:

  1. Connecting Scales: The globalisation of EJ analysis has been driven by the physical and human scales of environmental issues, including the political, cultural and economic mechanisms that produce unequal exposure to harms and access to benefits. EJ 2019 will explore new understanding of the connections between scales, for example through work drawing on telecoupling and environmental history or on the temporal and spatial characteristics of movements for transformations to sustainability.
  2. Connecting Movements: High profile EJ protests such as Standing Rock have revealed deep-seated connections between movements focused on the environment, gender, race, indigeneity, labour, peace and so on. EJ 2019 seeks to develop more dynamic understandings of discrimination through work that examines the intersections of social chasms such as gender, race, species and class and, by doing so, reveals a more critical agenda for just transformations to sustainability.
  3. Connecting Worldviews: EJ is fairly unique in being both a social movement and an academic field of enquiry, often producing knowledge through connected academic and activist inquiry. At the same time, unequal encounters between different types and sources of knowledge are themselves viewed as mechanisms for injustice. EJ 2019 welcomes research that connects academic and activist knowledge production through transdisciplinary approaches, as well as research that serves to counter hegemonic discourse, for example through decolonising environmental discourse and facilitating multi-worldview dialogues about alternative futures and just transitions towards them.