Reading radical environmental justice through a political ecology lens
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionSvarstad H, Benjaminsen TA. Reading radical environmental justice through a political ecology lens. Geoforum. 2020;108:1-11 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.11.007
Environmental justice (EJ) and political ecology (PE) have grown during recent decades to become leading critical approaches to socio-environmental analyses. The two fields share a history of pluralism and an openness to integrating new theoretical insights. Based on work by political philosophers in the radical justice tradition – such as Fraser, Young and Honneth – a 'radical environmental justice framework' has been established within EJ, focusing on three core elements: distributive justice, recognition and procedural justice. Later, inspired by Sen and Nussbaum, capabilities has been added as a fourth aspect. We have read this radical EJ framework through a PE lens and assess the potential for cross-fertilization between the two fields in relation to these four elements. First, the systematic treatment of distributive justice in the EJ literature provides a conceptualization that may be useful for PE in its specifications of various forms of injustice. Second, recognition is a useful perspective for both EJ and PE, but this aspect also highlights power relations that may need to be decolonized. To contribute to such a process of decolonization we suggest a focus on senses of justice and critical knowledge production. Third, the focus on procedural justice in the radical EJ framework would benefit from engagements with various power theories and discussions of participation that are prominent in the PE literature. Fourth, based on the PE viewpoint, we argue that there are two weaknesses in how capabilities theory tends to be used in the radical EJ literature: communities are discussed as homogenous groups without internal power relations; and actors and structures responsible for environmental injustice tend to be downplayed.