An Exception or the Rule? Institutional Failure and Contested Illness in Kettleman City, California

2:30 pm on Wednesday, March 1, 2017
3:30 pm on Wednesday, March 1, 2017
CAS 132
Seminar Series on Race, Justice, and Environment features Lauren Richter, Northeastern University // Science is a central tool in identifying and evaluating the existence of adverse environmental health effects. Expert knowledge acts as a gatekeeper to scientific, regulatory, and legal institutional recourse for residents of highly polluted communities. Drawing on a case study of a contested birth defect cluster in Kettleman City, California, this research deepens scholarship on environmental justice by examining how structural racism produces both disparate exposure and failed institutional recourse in marginalized spaces. Approaching environmental injustice from the perspective that disproportionate exposure is a deviation from an otherwise just norm, risks assuming equitable and inevitable societal progress. Alternatively, environmental injustice could be characterized as a norm, not an exception. Drawing on perspectives from environmental sociology and critical race theory, I ask if Mills’ (1997) “conceptually invisible space” might also be “scientifically or legally invisible space”. Are regulatory frameworks “failing” in certain spaces for certain populations? For whom do our regulatory frameworks function? This paper identifies key structural barriers for resource and redress in highly polluted environmental justice communities. // Lauren Richter joined the doctoral program in Sociology and Anthropology at Northeastern University in 2013. She is a member of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. Prior to pursuing her Ph.D. she worked at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment in California from 2009-2013. In 2009 and 2011 she taught courses on environmental justice at the University of San Francisco. She completed an M.A. in Sociology from Washington State University in 2008, where her masters thesis used spatial GIS models to analyze national trends in disparate environmental exposures in rural low-income communities and communities of color. She is on the board of directors of the Boston-based environmental justice organization Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE). She currently works as a research assistant on Dr. Phil Brown and Dr. Alissa Cordner’s NSF grant “Perflourinated Chemicals: The Social Discovery of a Class of Emerging Contaminants.” Her research interests include environmental health, environmental justice, and identity. In 2015 she received the graduate department’s “Outstanding Public and Applied Research Award.” // Sponsored by the Department of Earth & Environment