GEOG 8239 THEORETICAL GEOGRAPHY "Theorizing Environmental Injustice: Ecologies of Racial Capitalism" will be taught by Arun Saldanha this fall 2013 semester. The class will meet in Wednesdays from 2:30-5:00pm. Continue reading for a course description.
GEOG 8239 "Theorizing Environmental Injustice: Ecologies of Racial Capitalism"
As climate change becomes central to the political agenda, the question arises what critical geography could contribute to theorizing social justice in its environmental dimension. This seminar will explore the tensions between the various approaches to conceiving such justice. Rather than read geographers as such, we will make critical-geographical sense of four books and a few additional texts. It will become clear that in capitalism's assemblages of global warming, segregation, resources, and food distribution, the legacies of what settlement, slavery, empire, and Eurocentrism are still tangible.
Alfred Crosby's classic Ecological Imperialism argues that the history of Europe's global domination was and is at its basis a biological process, raising the specter of environmental determinism and its racist presumptions, but also pointing at important themes under-researched in the study of colonialism. As criticisms of Crosby show, if social relations are left out of the picture many of the causes of environmental injustice will be obscured. One of the key proponents of ecosocialism, Joel Kovel demonstrates in The Enemy of Nature how Marxist theory provides a rigorous framework for understanding the planetary ecological crisis as intrinsically following from the destructive propensities of money under capitalism. Excerpts from Vandana Shiva's Earth Democracy showcase the feminist contribution to theorizing global environmental justice.
Rob Nixon in Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor will allow us to explore specific themes in activism. It can be read as extending the critique of the racializing environmental effects of capitalism in the Global South and the US. A noteworthy statement in political theory from a liberal perspective is given in Stephen Gardiner's A Perfect Moral Storm. Moral philosophy, as inaugurated by Immanuel Kant and recast through rational choice theory by John Rawls, is implicitly dominant in both activism and policy circles. Moral philosophy is at odds with Marxism, but as we will see through excerpts from Kristin Shrader-Frechette's Environmental Justice, they both aim at critiquing and eliminating economic inequality, racism, and vulnerability to disaster. Exploring the political and stylistic tensions between the liberal and Marxist views on ecological crisis will go a considerable way in gaining conceptual resources to address what could be done to avert future environmental injustice.
Additional readings will include:
William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonies, and the Ecology of New England
Immanuel Kant, The End of All Things
Nancy Leong, 'Racial capitalism', Harvard Law Review
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice