Debating the Paradigms of Justice: The Bivalence of Environmental Justice

Dissertation, University of Colorado at Boulder (1999)

Robert Figueroa
Oregon State University
Environmental justice addresses social justice related to human activities that affect both human and natural environments, including the impact of human activities upon human health and values, immediate living and working conditions, natural resources that humans depend upon, cultural values intimately tied with the natural environment, and the ways in which the institution of environmentalism affects human relations. This description reveals that social problems are intimately connected with environmental problems. The causal connection between social problems and environmental problems may point in either direction: the social problem may be the cause of the environmental problem or vice versa. ;Recent justice theory is spliced by several general perspectives such as distributive theories, theories of political recognition, identity politics, and non-western alternatives. I consider these various perspectives with a particular emphasis on the ways in which environmental justice affects the debate between distributive justice and justice in the politics of recognition. Distributive justice theories focus on the fair distribution and redistribution of material goods in a society. On this account, the cultural characteristics of the society are ultimately explained by virtue of material distribution. Justice in the politics of recognition emerges from principles of self-determination, cultural identity, and political recognition. According to this viewpoint, cultural institutions and habits determine the conditions for social status which then guide the distribution of material goods. Contemporary justice theory seems gridlocked into this dichotomy. ;As a means to analyze this dichotomy, I draw upon the work of Nancy Fraser, who uses four key contrasts to distinguish the fundamental conflict between the two paradigms. Fraser identifies the conflict as the redistribution-recognition problem: a problem that must be addressed if we wish to achieve progress in social justice. I argue that environmental justice is plagued by the same redistribution-recognition problem. ;Using a bivalent conception of participatory parity as the bridging criterion for a theory of justice, which requires the operation of both paradigms simultaneously, I discuss the merits of Fraser's approach in the context of environmental justice. The dissertation concludes with a bivalent solution for environmental justice, which I argue has not heretofore been fully established
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