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Actor-Network Theory as a Critical Approach to Environmental Justice: A Case against Synthesis with Urban Political Ecology

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Recent critiques of environmental justice research emphasize its disengagement from theory and its political focus on liberal conceptions of distributional and procedural justice. Marxian urban political ecology has been proposed as an approach that can both contextualize environmental inequalities more productively and provide a basis for a more radical politics of environmental justice. Although this work takes its primary inspiration from historical materialism, it also adapts key concepts from actor-network theory (ANT)—in particular, the agency of nonhumans—while dismissing the rest of ANT as insufficiently critical and explanatory. This paper argues that ANT—specifically, the version articulated by Bruno Latour—provides a basis for an alternative critical approach to environmental justice research and politics. Instead of arguing for a synthesis of ANT and Marxism, I contend that ANT gives us a distinctive conception of the social and opens up new questions about the production and justification of environmental inequalities.
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Keywords: Marxism; actor-network theory; environmental justice; urban political ecology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA;, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2009-09-01

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