The Current Stakes of Social, Racial and Environmental Justice in the Americas
International conference – Call for papers
14-15 May, 2020 – La Rochelle University / CRHIA
La Rochelle, France
The Current Stakes of Social, Racial and Environmental Justice
in the Americas
There are no strangers. There are only versions of ourselves, many of which we have not embraced, most of which we wish to protect ourselves from. For the stranger is not foreign, she is random; […] and it is the randomness of the encounter […] that summons a ripple of alarm. That makes us reject the figure and the emotions it provokes […] It is also what makes us want to own, govern, or administrate the Other. To romance her, if we can, into our own mirrors. In either instance we deny her personhood. (Toni Morrison, The Fisherwoman in The Origin of Others, 2017, 38-39)
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. (Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., 1963)
In 1968, the Reverend Martin Luther King was in Memphis during the sanitation workers’ strike. In his speech, he made it clear that the problem of racial discrimination was only going to be solved by simultaneously reducing all inequalities. Despite the legal advances that had been made, the civil rights movement had failed to put an end to the ghettoization of poor, colored people in a substandard urban environment. The notion of environmental racism that emerged in the wake of the civil rights movement studies the impact of such stigmatization: (Bullard, 1990, 2012; Keucheyan, 2014): the most polluting urban projects are more frequently concentrated in poor, black or Latino neighborhoods.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wiped out the coast of Louisiana and partially destroyed New Orleans; the biggest damage occurred in the areas where 90% of the population was African-American (Lower Ninth Ward, St Bernard Parish). Henry Giroux, after the disaster, studied what he termed the politics of disposability, in reference to the black bodies that were left on the streets like so much litter that the authorities did not bother to pick up (Giroux, 2007). Spike Lee's 2006 documentary film, When the Levees Broke, shed light on this environmental and human disaster, restoring dignity to the victims through the voices of witnesses. On the American continent as a whole, when an environmental disaster hits, the most severely impacted populations are rarely the dominant social groups.
Since the neoliberal turn of the 1980s, socially underprivileged populations and ethnic minorities have been the first victims of rising inequalities (Piketty, 1997, 2013, 2019; Zucman, 2013; Saez and Zucman, 2019). Free trade agreements (US-Canada Free Trade Agreement, 1988; NAFTA 1994) have reduced the scope for government action on climate change, at a time when environmental issues are calling for stronger regulation of human activities (Klein, 2014). In the South, whether "conservative" or "progressive", Latin American governments have hardly questioned the dynamics of "extractivism"; on the contrary, it has been reinforced by the strong demand for raw materials on international markets, leading to their overexploitation and the criminalization of opponents, especially indigenous people. The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil in 2019 has consolidated Latin America’s largest and most populous country’s agro-industrial model of development, based on deforestation, at the expense of Aboriginal peoples’ territories. More generally, the so-called populist policies, north and south of the continent, have systematically denied climate change and belittled environmental issues, fragilizing underprivileged populations in the process.
Beyond the actions initiated by prominent NGOs (Greenpeace, Amnesty International), grassroots activism or new forms of civil disobedience have emerged, and have been at times harshly repressed. It now seems impossible not to hear the voices that resist abusive extractivism (Naomi Klein, 2014, 2017, 2019), north and south of the continent. The mobilization of indigenous peoples in Ecuador in 2013 protesting against the oil exploitation of the Yasuní Nature Reserve, and the protest that took place in Bolivia in 2011 against the construction of a road that was to run across the Indigenous Territory and Isiboro Secure Natural Park (TIPNIS), both point to the contradictions that have characterized the governments associated with the "Left Turn" of the early 21st century in Latin America (Lander, 2016 ; Dabène, 2012).
The notion of environmental justice takes on its full meaning when it is no longer the romanticized narrative of a longing for a state of nature, nor a critical construct built on the occultation of the colonial, patriarchal foundations of modernity (Ferdinand, 2019), but when, on the contrary, it takes into account the intersectionality of these issues. Thus, in Canada, the Idle No More movement, created by four women in 2012, in reaction to Bill 45, drafted by the Harper administration (Conservative government), translated into non-violent actions their refusal to let the government destroy their territory, their health and their way of life by building pipelines to carry unconventional oil from the tar sands of Alberta to Texas. Today, Idle No More activists are pointing to the colonialist foundations of this exploitation, which infringes on First Nations sovereignty and openly violates their land rights, guaranteed some one hundred years ago by the treaties they signed with the Canadian government. In the United States, the movement born out of the mobilization against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock has given the social and environmental protest greater international visibility.
These militant, dissenting voices are echoing their way into the literature and cultural production of the Americas, whether in fictional or non-fictional narratives, poetry, theatre, photography or painting. In her above-quoted essay The Fisherwoman, Toni Morrison challenges people’s refusal to see how the Other is mirrored within their own selves and the subsequent uncanny feeling that arises from this realization. According to Morrison, two forms of domination can derive from such a refusal: one based on oppression (dispossession), the other based on appropriation, a process of idealizing the Other (See Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Wise, 2010, on color-blind racism). In her work, the Literature Nobel Prize recipient persistently denounced the effects of slavery, racial segregation and misogyny on African American men and women, and on the social, geographical and metaphorical spaces they inhabit. To name but a few, her novels Sula (1973), Beloved (1987), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), her short story Recitatif (1983), and her non-fiction essay Playing in the Dark (1992) expose these injustices. In music, the protest rap of Drezus, spokesperson for the Idle No More movement (Red Winter, 2011), or Frank Waln (Oil 4 Blood, 2013 ; 7, 2016), has consistently uncovered the struggles of their Native communities, plagued by the extraction of resources, the pollution of their lands, and the government’s failure to respect the treaties signed by their ancestors. In cinema, African American female director Ava Du Vernay’s documentary film 13th (2014), or Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman (2018), counter the official narrative to denounce injustices or uncover historical scandals: respectively, the mass incarceration of African-American men as a new Jim Crow (Alexander, 2012), and a terrorist attack plotted by the Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. These artists and many others have brought the pressing issue of justice to the forefront of social, racial and environmental agendas in the Americas.
A more complete understanding of this intersection of the various sources of social domination (social, racial, sexual and gender identity) and the consideration of this "intersectionality" (Crenshaw, 1987) appear to be the main societal challenge conditioning the American continent’s move towards social and environmental justice. This conference therefore aims at highlighting approaches that will explore the possible convergences between these sources, both in terms of research topics and domains (literature, arts, human and social sciences, law, etc.). In a resolutely interdisciplinary approach, we more particularly invite papers addressing the following research topics:
- Environmental racism
- The issue of climate refugees and internally displaced people
- Decolonizing ecology
- The African diaspora in the Americas
- Indigenous peoples in the Americas
- Social and/or political ecology
- Intersectional activism (environnemental, antiracist, feminist activism, social protest, etc)
- Neo-extractivism in Latin America, extractivism in North America
- The criminalisation of social protest
Please send your proposals (400 words) as well as a short bio, before 22 June 2020, to the organizing committee:
You will hear back from the committee by 29 June 2020.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press, 2012.
Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.
Bullard, Robert D. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. Westview Press, 1990.
Bullard, Robert D. Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World. Earthscan, 2012.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: a Black Feminist Critique of Anti-Discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989 Issue, Volume 8.
Dabène, Olivier. La gauche en Amérique latine, 1998-2012. Presses de Sciences Po, 2012.
Escobar, Arturo. Sentir-penser avec la terre : une écologie au-delà de l’occident. Seuil, 2018.
Ferdinand, Malcom. Une écologie décoloniale : penser l’écologie depus le monde caribéen. Seuil, 2019.
Giroux, Henry. Violence, Katrina and the Biopolitics of Disposability. Sage Journals, 2007.
Keucheyan, Razmig. La nature est un champ de bataille : essai d’écologie politique. Zones, Éditions La Découverte, 2014.
Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
Klein, Naomi. No is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics. Allen Lane, 2017.
Klein, Naomi. On Fire: the (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. Simon & Schuster, 2019.
Lander, Edgardo. Neoextractivismo. Debates y conflictos en los países con gobiernos progresistas en Suramérica. Investigaciones sociales 20.37, 2016.
Lee, Spike. When the Levees Broke: a Requiem in Four Acts. HBO, 2006.
Mies, Maria & Shiva, Vandana. Ecofeminism. Zed, 1993.
Morrison, Toni. The Fisherwoman. In The Origin of Others. Harvard University Press, 2017.
Morrison, Toni. A Mercy. Knopf, 2008.
Morrison, Toni. Moral Inhabitants. In The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches and Meditations. Knopf, 2019.
Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Vintage, 1992.
Pickety, Thomas. L’économie des inégalités. La découverte, 1997.
Pickety, Thomas. Le capital au XXIème siècle. Les livres du Nouveau Monde, 2013.
Pickety, Thomas. Capital et idéologie. Seuil, 2019.
Taubira, Christiane. Nous habitons la terre. Philippe Rey, 2017.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1980, 2005.
Zucman, Gabriel. La richesse cachée des nations. Enquête sur les paradis fiscaux. Seuil, 2013.
Zucman, Gabriel et Saez, Emmanuel. The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make them Pay. Norton, 2019. A paraître en français : Le triomphe de l’injustice : richesse, évasion fiscale et démocratie. Seuil, 2020.
Scientific committee :
Andres, Emmanuelle. La Rochelle Université
Collomb, Jean-Daniel. Université Grenoble Alpes
Hindery, Derrick. University of Oregon
Ivol, Ambre. Université de Nantes
Keucheyan, Razmig. Centre Emile Durkheim, Université de Bordeaux
Larré, Lionel. Université de Bordeaux Montaigne
Loison, Nathalie. Université de Paris 11
Soumahoro, Maboula. Université François Rabelais, Tours
Urioste, Sebastian. La Rochelle Université