Exploring ‘francophone’ environmental justice approaches

Panel discussion at the Environmental Justice Conference 2019: ‘Transformative Connections’. University of East Anglia, 2-4 July 2019. Convenors: Brendan Coolsaet, ESPOL Lille; Valérie Deldrève, IRSTEA Bordeaux

The political ideal of environmental justice (EJ) emerges in the late 1970s in the United States, with the struggles of minorities against unequal spatial distributions of toxic pollution and hazardous waste. The ensuing development of related conceptual frameworks has largely drawn on liberal justice theories and US-inspired critical theory (e.g. Rawls, Young, Fraser, Sen; see Schlosberg 2007). While joining the race a few decades later, francophone scholarship has preferred the concept of ‘environmental inequality’ (inégalité environnementale; e.g. Zaccaï et al 2007) to ‘environmental justice’ (justice environnementale). Not only does this cast the debate in negative terms (inequality), it has also been considered to fall outside of the scope of US-style environmental justice (Laigle and Oehler 2004; Emelianoff 2008; Gagnon et al. 2008). Francophone EJ literature was particularly developed within the premises of sustainable development discourses, focusing on issues such as health (e.g. Charles et al. 2007), poverty alleviation (e.g. Gagnon et al., 2008), urban planning (e.g. Faburel 2011; Laigle and Tual 2007), or territoriality (e.g. Gobert 2010; Emelianoff 2008; Laurent, 2013).

Since the turn of the century, both approaches have largely evolved in parallel, both conceptually and politically. While anglophone EJ scholars have recently called for enlarging the conceptual underpinnings of environmental justice studies (Pellow 2018; Pulido 2017; Holifield, Porter and Walker 2009), ‘francophone’ influences have largely remained a blind spot in the literature, despite the dynamism of both francophone academic (e.g. Blanchon et al., 2011; Hache 2013; Deldrève 2015; Alvarez and Coolsaet 2019) and activist EJ work (e.g. Collectif Mauvaise troupe 2018).

This panel hence focuses on the distinctiveness (or lack thereof) of French/francophone approaches to environmental justice. We hope to move this conversation forward by establishing cross-Channel connections between academic environmental justice networks in the UK and in France. We seek empirically or theoretically framed works that engage with topics such as (but not limited to):

  • The differences and/or similarities between anglo-american/liberal environmental justice and francophone ‘environmental inequality’ (inégalité environnementale)
  • The usefulness/adequacy of anglo-american/liberal environmental justice approaches in francophone contexts
  • The potential of French/francophone thought for EJ, including (but not limited to):
    • French social theory and post-structuralism (e.g. Bourdieu, Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Sartre)
    • francophone postcolonial work (e.g. Césaire, Fanon, Mbembe, Senghor, Vergès)
    • French degrowth & political ecology (e.g. Gorz, Latouche)
    • French gender studies, intersectionality, ecofeminism, and ethics of care (e.g. Fassin, Guétat, Hache, Larrère, Stengers, Zitouni)
  • Do EJ struggles in francophone countries generate different political claims?