Shaping environmental “justices”
This thesis investigates the concept of environmental justice (EJ) by tracing its origins, the process of its shaping and reshaping, and its adoption in Taiwan. EJ addresses the phenomenon of disproportionate distribution of environmental risks among social groups. As no one can actually “see” how risks are distributed, one has no choice but to rely on scientific (or other) techniques to visualise and then conceptualise these risks. After so doing, EJ has been turned into specific indicators to gauge EJ/injustice and the technical methods to measure it, even though the scope of these concerns is much broader and goes far beyond the technical. Using detailed historical exposition in tandem with interviews, this thesis seeks to demonstrate the processes that have led to the dominant constructions of environmental justice. The main argument of this thesis is that the phenomenon of EJ/injustice is a condensation of power relations/struggle, and the discourses that describe and the measures that gauge it are an expression of this struggle. Specifically, in this thesis I attempt to show that EJ is being constructed through the very process of debate among EJ supporters and with their challengers. Seen from this angle, this thesis shows that the conceptions of EJ differ and are mutable. To say that these conceptions change is not to deny that there is environmental injustice, but to recognise that the key characteristics can be categorised or explained differently. This research discloses that claims about EJ can be framed in much greater variety in terms of identity, difference, territory and governance. This thesis suggests that although understanding EJ through specific indicators and some sorts of techniques are necessary, a just society cannot be achieved through scientific research alone. The question of how much or what sort of data is sufficient to prove the existence of (in)justice is not a scientific one, but a social one. Our research could become much more meaningful if we recognise the specificity and limitations of the dominant approach and if the phenomenon of EJ/injustice is put in context. To achieve this, our intellectual endeavours should be properly conceived as being about a theory of endless political struggles over the issue, rather than simply about “discovering” EJ.