Strategies for success in the environmental justice movement

2003 2003

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation examines 60 case studies of communities in the United States that have fought against incinerators, toxic wastes, polluting industries, nuclear waste sites, and other locally unwanted land uses. These are cases of “environmental injustice”: neighborhoods where people suffer disproportionately high rates of exposure to environmental hazards. Many of these people are impoverished and marginalized from the political process; many are racial or ethnic minorities, such as African Americans, Latinos, and indigenous peoples. They have battled some of the largest multinational corporations in the world, as well as their local, state, and federal governments. Yet in many cases, they have succeeded.

This research seeks to understand the conditions and circumstances under which grassroots activists are most likely to succeed or fail in their struggles for environmental justice. Applying both a quantitative and qualitative analysis for dozens of variables, it concludes that positive media attention, political alliances, and strategies of direct action are among the factors that have proven most successful for the 60 communities. By contrast, legal strategies—especially civil rights complaints alleging racial discrimination—have largely been unsuccessful.

Yet, even when citizens manage to stop a locally unwanted land use, they often continue to live in areas that are disproportionately polluted and toxic. Therefore this dissertation proposes a new theory of proactive social change: Transformative Action Theory. This new theory builds upon the ideas of nonviolent social change scholars and practitioners, such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet it emphasizes the constructive aspect of their philosophy. Rather than focusing on their efforts to stop violence and injustice, Transformative Action Theory develops the little-known ideas of Gandhi and King to promote a new vision for rebuilding and revitalizing society.

Indexing (details)

Environmental science;
Minority & ethnic groups;
Urban planning;
Area planning & development
0768: Environmental science
0631: Minority & ethnic groups
0631: Sociology
0999: Urban planning
0999: Area planning & development
Identifier / keyword
Health and environmental sciences; Social sciences; Environmental justice; Grassroots activism; Nonviolence; Social movements
Strategies for success in the environmental justice movement
Sherman, Scott D.
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-B 64/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Bryant, Bunyan I., Jr.
University of Michigan
University location
United States -- Michigan
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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