Social Movements and the Transformation of American Health Care

By Jane C. Banaszak-Holl; Sandra R. Levitsky et al. | Go to book overview

11
Shadow Mobilization for Environmental
Health and Justice

Scott Frickel

For over a quarter century, citizen demands for “environmental justice” and more recently “environmental health justice,” have energized place-based political struggle in rural and urban settings across the United States (Gibbs 2002). Although widely varied, these conflicts typically involve citizen groups or a coalition of community groups and “grassroots support organizations” (Tesh 2000) organized against industrial polluters and the various governmental organizations charged with the regulation, disposal, and management of environmental hazards (Cable and Cable 1995; Szaz 1994).

While the rights-based discourse adopted by the environmental justice movement (EJM) locates its political demands squarely within U.S. civil rights law (Cole and Foster 2001), community-level outcomes often turn on the technical merits of activists’ claims regarding the existence of environmental contamination and the various impacts those hazards have on individuals and communities. The question of impacts, and particularly health impacts, depends further on the generation of credible evidence regarding chemical fate, transport, and bioavailabilty, as well as the length, frequency, and routes of exposure. In such contexts, toxicologists, epidemiologists, geneticists, physicians, and other health experts can influence community outcomes by reconfiguring the production and circulation of strategic forms of scientific knowledge (Allen 2003; Brown 2007; Fischer 2000). To maximize that potential, it is necessary to gain a better understanding of whether and how those “expert activists” are organized. Existing research has focused almost exclusively on the roles that individual professionals play in various local settings, but has yet to engage broader sets of questions concerning the structure of expert activism and the dynamics of expert mobilization and recruitment.

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