NIFK17004U Environmental Justice

Volume 2017/2018

Across the Globe, people rise up and protest against social inequities and environmental threats. They protest when confronted with environmental ‘bads’ such as polluted or degraded local environments. They protest when barred from accessing environmental ‘goods’ such as clean water, land for agriculture or grazing, or urban green spaces for recreation. They protest against environmental injustices associated with infrastructure development, industrial complexes, agribusinesses, and large corporations, which are seen to derive profit from activities that threaten the environments that underpin the livelihoods of current and future generations. These social movements can be grassroots groups and/or groups organized as non-governmental organizations, and often organize under the banner of ‘environmental justice’.

Alongside the growth of environmental justice movements, the academic field of environmental justice has also rapidly expanded. It is a highly interdisciplinary field that draws on theories and concepts from across the natural and social sciences and humanities, such as environmental science, moral and political philosophy, science studies, development studies, and critical human geography. Environmental justice academics seek to analyze: (i) the nature of the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens; (ii) how environmental phenomena are experienced in different ways by different social groups; (iii) how justice claims are enacted/mobilized in struggles over resources, in particular the strategies of the social movements that call for justice.

This course offers students of environmental science, food science, natural resources governance, geography, global development or similar fields the opportunity to learn how to understand, analyze, and engage in environmental justice conflicts and debates. Through an intensive three-week course, students will practice unraveling claims of environmental (in-)justice from a social science perspective that also incorporates elements of environmental history and environmental science. Students will also engage with theories on how social movements strategize and communicate their claims, and will get a chance to formulate their own strategy and methods for communicating such claims. Finally, students will be exposed to the realities of environmental justice advocacy groups that struggle to affect current environmental injustices. By the end of the course, students have acquired the skills to formulate critical questions and clear methodologies around environmental justice that will enable them to engage in diverse environmental justice conflicts and debates across diverse topics, scales, and contexts.  

Learning Outcome

Learning outcomes

Upon completing this course, the students should be able to:


  1. Define environmental degradation and pollution
  2. Describe the history of environmental justice 
  3. Describe theories on communicative action
  4. Explain how environmental justice draws on elements of political and moral philosophy, post-colonial theory, feminist theory, and social movement theory



  1. Apply principles from critical environmental science and history to examine claims of environmental degradation and pollution
  2. Analyze claim making in environmental justice conflicts
  3. Assess communicative actions used by social movements in environmental justice conflicts



  1. Critically analyze actor positions and claims in environmental justice conflicts
  2. Reflect communicative strategies used by social movements in the context of environmental justice conflicts
  3. Collaboratively develop environmental justice campaigns and create communicative strategies for use in environmental justice conflicts


The curriculum for the course will include book chapters and scientific articles. A full reading list will be made available in advance of the course. The curriculum will include: introductions to environmental justice; political and moral philosophy; critical environmental science and history; post-colonial theory, feminist theory, critiques of capitalism, neoliberalism and development and; theories on social movements and communicative action. While the reading list will change from year to year, the following 10 readings are examples of key pieces of literature within the themes covered by the course, i.e. examples that could be part of a given year’s reading list.

Walker, G. 2012. Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics. New York: Routledge.

Wright et al. 2013. Myth and Momentum: A Critique of Environmental Impact Assessments. Journal of Environmental Protection 4, 72-77.

Langston, N. 2011. Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES. Yale University Press.

Fraser, N. 2008. Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. Columbia University Press.

Quijano, A. 2000. Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepentla: Views From the South 1, 533–580

Butler, J. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Martinez-Alier, J. 2012. Environmental justice and economic degrowth: an alliance between two movements. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 23(1), 51-73.

Tarrow, S. 1998. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge University Press

Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. 2005. Communicative action and the public sphere. The Sage handbook of qualitative research 3, 559-603.

Escobar, Arturo. 1995. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton University Press

No academic qualifications are required.
The course blends a number of learning methods. Theoretical and case-oriented lectures-cum-discussions, with an emphasis on in-class dialogue, will demand that students arrived prepared for active exchange. At least one full day excursion and one or more visits by representatives of social movements based in Copenhagen will diversify learning opportunities. Case-based group work will challenge students to collaboratively analyze and develop a communicative strategy for an environmental justice case. This communicative strategy will form the basis for an individual essay exam, where students will be asked to critically analyze the chosen strategy.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 40
  • Excursions
  • 10
  • Guidance
  • 4
  • Lectures
  • 30
  • Preparation
  • 52
  • Project work
  • 50
  • Seminar
  • 20
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 7 days
The exam is a 5,000 word (excl. list of references) individual essay, which must be handed in on the last day of the three week course. The purpose of the essay will be explained 7 days in advance of the time it must be handed in.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner

12 hour essay exam in response to a specific question. 

Criteria for exam assesment

See Learning Outcomes