Session: Promoting Environmental Justice: The Centrality of Place and Culture (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

113 Promoting Environmental Justice: The Centrality of Place and Culture

Friday, January 17, 2020: 2:00 PM-3:30 PM
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Sustainable Development, Urbanization, and Environmental Justice (SDU&E)
Symposium Organizer:
Shanondora Billiot, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lisa Reyes Mason, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Environmental problems like diminishing natural resources, pollution, and climate change disproportionately impact racially and economically marginalized populations. Social work researchers and practitioners have recently begun to take more active roles in environmental justice initiatives to redress these inequities. However, while many environmental injustices have similar mechanisms across the globe (e.g., over-farming, urbanization, industrial pollution, intensifying heat waves and storms), environmental justice interventions vary greatly according to place and culture. This panel presents papers on environmental justice in diverse locales and cultural contexts, exploring diverse approaches to promoting equity and inquiring about key commonalities and points of divergence between them.

The theme of the 24th annual Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) conference, Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality, is intricately tied to underlying, structural causes of environmental justice. As social work seeks to “Create social responses to a changing environment,” this panel begins from the observation that we need flexible, “socially-situated responses” that can meet the demands of diverse contexts of intervention. This panel sheds new light on this topic by exploring, cross-culturally, the emergence of the meaning and pursuit of environmental justice across variations of scales of place: rural, urban, and suburban. We filter justice through place to demonstrate how place is informed by pillars of distributive social justice, equality, equity, power, need, and responsibility. Central to distributive justice of place is trust within the community of institutional actors for representation, participation, and organizing as related to environmental decision-making.

This panel's discussant is a leader in social work and environmental justice. She will introduce the panel and each presenter and facilitate a post-presentation discussion with the audience. The four case studies span scales of place and culture. First, panelist one will present findings from historical and ethnographic research on environmental justice campaigns in India. He shows how these “place-based” campaigns address certain forms of economic and race inequity, but can also obscure attention to caste, gender, and other inequities. The next panelists will present the lived experiences of older adults experiencing the ongoing the Flint water crisis, a man-made environmental disaster, analyzing their relationships to individual and collective spaces. Utilizing case study methodology, the third panelist will then present an analysis of the strategic and ethical challenges embedded within an environmental justice organization that is located within a rapidly gentrifying Chicago neighborhood. She will describe how organizers struggle to improve access to environmental amenities in a way that does not inadvertently accelerate the displacement of the very residents intended to benefit. The last presenter will continue the discussion of displacement of an Indigenous community exposed to repeated disasters and coastal erosion. She will present findings from an ethnographic study that highlights the interconnectedness of place, culture, and health. Participants in this study express grief for their loss of land and culture due to chronic environmental changes. Following the presentation, the discussant will facilitate dialogue between the panelist and audience.

* noted as presenting author
Places of Change: Environmental Justice and Chronic Inequity in India
John Mathias, PhD, Florida State University
An Ongoing Environmental Disaster in Flint, Michigan: Narratives of Inequality through the Lens of Older Adults
Tam Perry, PhD, Wayne State University; Jessica Robbins, PhD, Wayne State University
Environmental Justice Organizing in a Gentrifying Community
Amy Krings, MSW, PhD, Loyola University of Chicago School of Social Work
Interconnectedness of Place, Culture, and Health
Shanondora Billiot, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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