NIFK17004U Environmental Justice

Volume 2018/2019

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. 1. Describe environmental harms and benefits
  2. 2. Describe the history of environmental justice 
  3. 3. Describe practical principles of communicative strategies for justice-based social movements
  4. 4. Explain how environmental justice draws on elements of political and moral philosophy, post-colonial theory, political-economic theory, and social movement theory



  1. 1. Assess the distribution of environmental harms and benefits
  2. 2. Analyze claim-making in environmental justice conflicts
  3. 3. Develop communicative strategies for social movements in environmental justice conflicts



  1. 1. Critically analyze actor positions and claims in environmental justice conflicts
  2. 2. Reflect on communicative strategies used by social movements in the context of environmental justice conflicts
  3. 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: foundational works of environmental justice; examples of the philosophical underpinnings of environmental justice; post-colonial theory, feminist theory, critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism, and theories on social movements; critical environmental history and; communicative strategies and action. While the reading list will change from year to year, the following 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.


1. Introductions to environmental justice:

Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. London: Penguin Classics

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

Bullard, R.J. 1990. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality.  Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


2. Political and moral philosophy:

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

Olson, K. 2008. Adding insult to injury. Nancy Fraser debates her critics. London: Verso.

Rawls, J. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press.


3. Post-colonial theory:

Coulthard, G. S. 2014. Red Skind, White Masks. Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Whyte, K.P. 2017. The Dakota Access Pipeline, Environmental Injustice and U.S. Colonialism. Red Ink 19(1): 154-169.


4. Critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism:

Harvey, D. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press.

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


5. Contentious politics and social movements:

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

Schlosberg, D. and Coles, R. 2016. The new environmentalism of everyday life: Sustainability, material flows and movements. Contemporary Political Theory 15, 160–181.


6. Communication and mobilization:

Mix, T. L. 2011. Rally the people: building local‐environmental justice grassroots coalitions and enhancing social capital. Sociological Inquiry 81, 174-194.

Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. 2005. Communicative action and the public sphere.  , 559-603.

The course is a predominantly a social science course. However, a social science background is not required, and the course is open to students from all disciplines including natural, life or health sciences.
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 excursion and one or more visits by representatives of social movements 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.
An introductory meeting will be held June 2019. If you are unable to participate (for instance if you live abroad) you can get information about how to prepare through Absalon or by sending an email to the course responsible, Jens Friis Lund
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 24
  • Excursions
  • 5
  • Guidance
  • 4
  • Lectures
  • 30
  • Preparation
  • 73
  • Project work
  • 50
  • Seminar
  • 20
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 72 hours
The exam is a 72-hour essay exam with a world limit of 3,000 words (excl. list of references) individual essay. The essay must respond to a task that will made available to participants on the last teaching day of the course.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner

The same as the ordinary exam. 

Criteria for exam assesment

See Learning Outcomes