Putting Scientists in Their Place: Participatory Research in Environmental and Occupational Health
Many community and workplace activists have come into head-on collision with the scientific establishment in recent years over threats to people's health from toxic chemicals in the environment and workplaces. These conflicts have cast doubts on some of the most deeply embedded values of science itself, including the central concept of objectivity. This chapter reviews some of the issues of control over the production and use of scientific knowledge which have emerged from struggles over the past decade in the southeastern United States.
Around the world, the years since the early 1970s have seen a remarkable growth in community and workplace activism on health issues. In the United States, the black-lung movement of disabled coal miners in the early 1970s led to precedent-setting legislation on coal mine health and safety, which was the precursor of a new wave of legislation to regulate workplace and environmental health hazards. Unions have become involved in health and safety issues, and coalitions of workers and professionals have formed to work for cleaner and healthier workplaces. More and more communities across the country have organized around environmental health hazards of toxic wastes and air and water pollution.
The reasons for this period of activism have yet to be fully analyzed. We might point to the period of stable economic growth and relative prosperity which enabled unions to look beyond purely economic issues in the workplace. The environmental movement of the 1970s, while having little to do with people's health and more to do with saving trees and wildlife, did