Intersectional oral histories: method and praxis in environmental justice research

Larkins, Michelle L., author
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The compatibility of intersectional theory and environmental justice research seems self-evident. Central to the framework of intersectionality, is the concept that subjective identities create interlocking categories through which the inequalities of power are experienced—individually and socio-structurally within communities. Foremost among many environmental justice scholars is the acknowledgement that new theoretical orientations and qualitative investigative methods are needed to address the emerging spatial and contextual heterogeneity of environmental justice research (Schlosberg, 2013; Szasz and Meuser, 1997). In my own work, I am interested in problematizing the feminization of the EJ movement/framework—a feminization I argue can impact the distribution of resources (power). I do this by examining how hegemonic conceptions of masculinity and femininity shape women's engagement in community action. In this paper, I explore the construction and negotiation of identity of women actors who are involved in environmental and food justice projects from two separate Rocky Mountain West communities; the first a small community near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the second, three contiguous and primarily Latino neighborhoods outside of Denver, Colorado. Using the oral histories of women (n=11) involved in these projects, and a framework of intersectionality, I demonstrate how gender interlocks with other identities (such as femininity, citizenship, and place) to mediate environmental realities, experiences of injustice, and claims for recognition and restoration (Whyte, 2014). My intent in drawing on this research approach is to incorporate embodied human reality and to establish settings where individuals are able to name their experiences/feelings and simultaneously reflect on meaning (Anderson et al, 1990). I will illustrate how this type of approach is well suited to social praxis, citizen science engagement with communities who can incorporate these narratives into their own work, and can help EJ scholars move toward transdisciplinarity.
Presented at the Environmental justice in the Anthropocene symposium held on April 24-25, 2017 at the Lory Student Center, Colorado State University, Fort Collins Colorado. This symposium aims to bring together academics (faculty and graduate students), independent researchers, community and movement activists, and regulatory and policy practitioners from across disciplines, research areas, perspectives, and different countries. Our overarching goal is to build on several decades of EJ research and practice to address the seemingly intractable environmental and ecological problems of this unfolding era. How can we explore EJ amongst humans and between nature and humans, within and across generations, in an age when humans dominate the landscape? How can we better understand collective human dominance without obscuring continuing power differentials and inequities within and between human societies? What institutional and governance innovations can we adopt to address existing challenges and to promote just transitions and futures?
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intersectional identities
hegemonic femininity
cultural expectations
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