USP515 Session 3 Notes

September 9th
Session Three: Central Theories

This session will focus on the concept and root causes of environmental injustice. We will be guided by the following questions:

  1. What are the main issues discussed in Feagin and Eckberg article? (These are all quotes)
    1. Most of the germane social science literature contains some variation
      of the assumption that prejudice causes discrimination

      1. Thus in his pathbreaking study An American Dilemma, Myrdal saw racial prejudice as a complex of beliefs that “are behind discriminatory behavior on the part of the majority group” and that contradict the egalitarian American Creed.
      2. Only a few dozen prejudice-discrimination studies exist among the
        many attitude-behavior studies in the empirical literature
      3. Attitude-behavior research, published primarily in a few social psychology journals, emphasizes individualistic explanations; it seldom considers variables outside an experimental subject’s personality or immediate reference group.
      4. Few studies of prejudice and discrimination, i looking at causal explanations, have focused on economic and political context
      5. In addition to this variegated research literature, more general and
        theoretical discussions in the social sciences continue to accent a prejudice-causes-discrimination
      6. Because of their focus on prejudice and its relation to discrimination,
        social scientists have tended toward optimism about the eradication of discrimination
    2. Social scientists have also sought to delineate the statistical and psychological effects of discrimination
    3. Institutional Discrimination: a shift in emphasis
      1. Beginning in earnest in the 1960s, some social scientists departed from the prejudice-causes-discrimination model and focused on other types of motivation and other dimensions of discrimination
      2. Interest theory suggests that discrimination can be shaped by desire for social, economic, or political gain
      3. Institutional Racism: In Black Power, the activist Carmichael
        and the scholar Hamilton first used the concept of institutional racism in an extended sociological analysis. Looking beyond individual white bigots, they try to discern community-wide patterns of discrimination, but racial prejudice remains for them the fundamental motivation for institutional patterns of discrimination
      4. The internal colonialism perspective asserts that privilege was created when colonizing Europeans wrested resources such as labor and land away from native peoples
    4. A typology of discrimination
      1. The traditional emphasis on prejudice and its effects has left undefined the major types of discriminatory mechanisms and the range of motivations behind them
      2. Two features of institutionalized discrimination are important for
        analytical purposes: (a) its organizational embeddedness and (b) its

        1. Embeddedness refers to the organizational environment, to
          the size and complexity of the relevant social unit. Size and complexity can vary from actions of a single individual to the routine practices of many individuals in a large organization
        2. In analyzing discriminatory actions, we distinguish two basic types intentional and unintentional. Intentional motivation includes (a) prejudice-motivated discrimination, (b) conformity-motivated discrimination and (c) gain-motivated discrimination
    5. The larger context
      1. Interaction and overlay
        1. Discriminatory actions within one institutional area are frequently linked to discrimination in other institutional settings
      2. The cultural background
        1. Several recent authors have reemphasized the cultural context of institutionalized discrimination
      3. Class and racial discrimination
        1. Class analysis in the orthodox Marxist tradition has generally played down the importance of racism analysis, seeing class oppression as the core characteristic in this society and racist ideologies as class weapons. Exploitation theories of discrimination date back at least to Marx & Engels’ discussion (Marx & Engels 1971) of the stereotype of the poor Irish fostered by British capitalists to divide the working class
          1. Since a form of racial subordination (e.g. slavery) often predates the emergence of well developed prejudice or ideology, it is plausible to view much prejudice as rationalization
        2. In contrast, a few social scientists have begun to see both class and race oppression as core characteristics of US society.
          1. In their path-breaking book Unorthodox Marxism (1978:181), Albert & Hahnel have developed the view that both class and race discrimination ad stratification have “a determining impact upon the life situation of a particular oppressed group and a defining effect upon everyone else as well.”
        3. Some who argue in the Marxist tradition (broadly construed) see an eventual decline in the importance of race discrimination. I his controversial book The Declining Significance of Race, Wilson (1978:150) demonstrates that in the last decade an affluent class of blacks has surfaced whose economic condition differs significantly from the black majority “underclass.” Thus racial oppression, while still important, is now secondary to class “in determining black life-chances in the modern industrial period.
    6. Racial discrimination remains a bedrock feature of this society; only research documenting the dimensions of discrimination seems to be on the decline.
  2. What do we learn from the diagram that Feagin and Eckberg use in their article?
    1. It shows the dimensionality of intention and pervasiveness in institutional discrimination. The authors discuss each possible combination and later argue for trends in interaction and movement between the groups.
    2. The combinations are clustered into four main groups which are both possible and likely.
  3. What can we learn about institutionalized racism from the Feagin and Eckberg analysis and diagram?
    1. The implication from the overall message of the article with regard to this chart is that each type of institutional racism works in a fundamentally different way and should have its own research and solutions.
  4. What are the main issues discussed in Bullard’s article?
    1. Confronting environmental racism
    2. Over 1.3 billion people worldwide live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions
    3. The pervasive presence of settler colonialism leads directly to the displacement and extermination of native populations everywhere.
    4. Costly externalities have disparate impact  for different kinds of communities
      1. “Unequal power arrangements have allowed poisons of the rich to be offered as short-term remedies for poverty of the poor.”
    5. “The environmental justice movement has begun to build a global network of grassroots groups, community-based organizations, university-based resource centers, researchers, scientists, educators and youth group”
  5. What are the main issues discussed in Mohai and Bryant article?
    1. The disadvantaged face greater risks
    2. Many examples where being poor and/or non-white led to marginalized people being exposed to environmental harms in order to protect rich and/or white people.


ASSIGNED READING FOR SESSION THREE (click on session 3 on left to access reading) 


  1. Discrimination: Motivation, Action, Effects, and Context – Feagin and Eckberg
  2. Confronting Environmental Racism in the 21st Century -Bullard
  3. Race, Poverty, and the Environment -Mohai and Bryant
  4. Green 2.0: Leaking Talent 
  5. Green 2.0: The Green Insiders Club


 HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT Due September 14th and 16th

  1. Listen to this radio broadcast on Democracy Now.
  2. Summarize everything  you learned from the video.
    • An unelected “emergency manager” in Flint Michigan switched its water supply from the Detroit system to the flint river in order to save money.
      • The public was not involved in this decision
    • This river was full of toxic corrosive chemicals which led to discolored water and health problems for citizens.
      • Companies like general motors had dumped toxic chemicals into the river for years
    • There were bacterial outbreaks in the new dirty water which led to sickness for citizens.
    • The city dumped chlorine into the water which reacted with the materials to create extremely dangerous byproducts in the water.
    • The corrosive chemicals in the river and added by the city led to corrosion of the pipes and leached toxic heavy metals into the water, poisoning countless people in the city.
    • Officials ignored and covered up complaints by the citizens.
      • Widespread protests and citizen testing projects were needed to prove the problems existed.
    • Years later, the problems are the same.
    • People are forced to buy gallons of water from the store in order to have water to drink, and yet legally they are still required to pay for the toxic, poisoned city water supply.
    • Activists are calling for citizens to be made whole
      • Clean water to homes
      • Replace contaminated appliances and in-home pipes
    • A nearby nestle plant extracts hundreds of gallons of water per minute to sell to residents.
      • Nestle pays nothing for this water.
  3. Be prepared to discuss in class.

Thirsty for Democracy: The Poisoning of an American City”: Special Report on Flint’s Water Crisis — KPFA starts at 6.58 minutes in