What is the relationship between racism, economic inequality, and environmental degradation? Are these modes of injustice the consequence of a single overarching structure (e.g. capitalism or colonialism) against which resistance should be aimed? Are they formed by overlapping, but relatively autonomous, structures that nonetheless form a Gordian knot of oppression? Or are they the result of cross-cutting social processes and institutions that must be grappled with in historically contingent ways? The goal of this class is to equip students with the theoretical and conceptual tools through which to critically examine the empirical relationship between race, class, and the environment. To do so, we’ll engage with a broad and eclectic body of literature, including: critical race theory, labor history, Marxist and post-Marxist theory, whiteness studies, post-colonialism, environmental political theory, and environmental justice studies.
The course will be divided into three units. We will begin by exploring race, class, and the environment individually, focusing on each concept’s origin, its historical permutations, and its intersection with a range of social forces. We will then turn to several sites that can help us think through the complex relationships that exist between race, class, and the environment in our current world: home, work, wilderness, food, water, and climate. The final third of the class will give students the opportunity to pursue a research project of their own choosing.