Climate of framing: Beyond environmental racism and environmental justice in a neoliberal context
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This dissertation provides a sociological analysis of framing urban environmental crises. I ask how the environmental racism narrative of the late 20th century was framed by social movements, the waste management industry, and local and state government. Drawing on the corpus of qualitative data about environmental racism, I show how conventional social movements used a legal frame, raising moral questions about racism, to challenge the waste management industry. I use the case of Chester, PA to highlight the frame relationships between social movements, the waste management industry, and government. The legal frame’s failure to account for factors beyond race that determine environmental risk created discursive space for large scale polluters to shift the locus of questions from a legal to a political frame. I consider the lifespan of the environmental racism narrative and the rise of the current environmental justice narrative. Environmental justice social movements, in attempting to respond to the challenges of environmental racism as a legal strategy, are decentralized, globally focused, and they attempt to account for the constellation of interacting variables implicated in environmental burden. Nebulous SMOs highlight struggles of all poor and/or minority communities as a reflection of global climate change challenges such as human reliance on burning fossil fuels, production of waste itself, and the ways in which large-scale polluters externalize environmental risk. The waste management industry, however, captures the language of environmental justice SMOs to position itself as an environmental steward. The significance of this dissertation is in the framing interactivity of three seemingly distinct agents: social movements, large scale polluters, and government find themselves at different movements contesting or aligning with one another’s framing efforts. These layers of frames reveal unstable narratives.