• Environmental Justice Activism in Context: A Case Study of the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment in Kern County, California

      Constantine, Moe; Department of Sociology
      Kern County, California is home to some of the worst environmental health conditions in the United States and to one of the oldest and most active chapters of the environmental justice movement (EJM) in the country, known as the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment (CRPE). The region, which is characterized by conservative politics, oil and agricultural production, and a long history of farm labor organizing, constitutes a challenging context for CRPE activism that attempts to address the many environmental injustices residents face. Drawing from semi-structured interviews with nine CRPE members, this thesis analyzes how CRPE navigates the historical, social, and political context in which it operates. Its strategies and goals, which center relationship-building and procedural justice, are influenced by and respond to Kern County’s particular social and political dynamics. Analyzing the contours of CRPE’s activism contributes to a greater understanding of how the organization conceptualizes and enacts 'environmental justice' (EJ) (in relation to how it is understood and deployed in different contexts), and how its EJ activists instigate change through their ability to successfully navigate the complexities of the context within which they are situated. How EJ activists negotiate politically conservative contexts to achieve some measure of environmental justice is not well understood in the EJ literature, so I pay particular attention to how Kern County’s conservatism shapes CRPE’s work.