Environmental Justice

Course content

Across the Globe, people rise up and protest against social injustices and environmental threats. They protest when confronted with environmental ‘bads’ such as polluted or degraded local environments or the damages incurred by climate changes. They protest when excluded from accessing environmental ‘goods’ such as clean water, land for agriculture or grazing, or urban green spaces for recreation. They protest against environmental injustices associated with infrastructure development, industrial complexes, agribusinesses, and large corporations, which are seen to derive profit from activities that threaten the environments that underpin the livelihoods of current and future generations. These social movements can be grassroots groups and/or groups organized as non-governmental organizations, and often organize under the banner of ‘environmental justice’.

Alongside the growth of environmental justice movements, the academic field of environmental justice has also rapidly expanded. It is a highly interdisciplinary field that draws on theories and concepts from across the natural and social sciences and humanities, such as environmental science, moral and political philosophy, science studies, development studies, and critical human geography. Environmental justice academics seek to analyze: (i) the nature of the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens; (ii) how environmental phenomena are experienced in different ways by different social groups; (iii) how justice claims are enacted/mobilized in struggles over resources, in particular the strategies of the social movements that call for justice.

This course offers students of environmental science, food science, natural resources governance, geography, global development or similar fields the opportunity to learn how to understand and analyze, but also engage, in environmental justice conflicts and debates.

The course has two overall parts. The first part consists of the first five weeks of the course. These are focused on theory and analysis. This part helps students analyze environmental (in-)justice from a social science perspective that also incorporates elements of environmental science. Theories taught include philosophical underpinnings of environmental justice; decolonial theory, feminist theory, critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism, and theoretical perspectives on knowledge. The main learning activities will be lectures and various exercises and group discussions to introduce the theories, and a group work process throughout the five weeks where students get to apply the theories by analyzing a case of environmental justice conflict. This first part culminates with the handing in of a short group report communicating the analysis of the case, with a session where groups give feedback on another group’s report and receive feedback from peers and lecturers on their report.

The second part comprises the last three weeks of the course, and is focused on practice. Here students will engage with theories on how social movements strategize and communicate their claims, and will formulate their own environmental justice action/campaign with a point of departure in the case they analyzed during the first five weeks. This part of the course culminates with an oral presentation in class where the groups will receive feedback on their ideas for an action/campaign from an experienced social movement expert.

By completing this course, students will have acquired the skills to formulate critical questions and clear methodologies around environmental justice that will enable them to engage in diverse environmental justice conflicts and debates across diverse topics, scales, and contexts. Similarly, students will have gained tools and experience in collectively creating an action/campaign in an environmental justice conflict setting.  


MSc Programme in Global Environment and Development

Learning outcome

Learning outcomes

Upon completing this course, the students should be able to:


  1. 1. Describe environmental harms and benefits
  2. 2. Describe the history of environmental justice 
  3. 3. Explain how environmental justice draws on elements of political and moral philosophy, decolonial theory, political-economic theory, and social movement theory



  1. 1. Assess the distribution of environmental harms and benefits
  2. 2. Analyze claim-making in environmental justice conflicts


  1. 1. Critically analyze actor positions and claims in environmental justice conflicts
  2. 2. Reflect on repertoires of contention used by social movements in the context of environmental justice conflicts
  3. 3. Collaboratively develop environmental justice actions/campaigns and associated communication

The course blends a number of learning methods. Theoretical and case-oriented lectures-cum-discussions, with an emphasis on in-class dialogue, will demand that students arrived prepared for active exchange. At least one excursion and one or more visits by representatives of social movements will diversify learning opportunities. Case-based group work will challenge students to collaboratively analyze and develop an environmental justice action/campaign. This group work will form the basis for an individual essay exam, where students will be asked to further critically analyze their case.


The curriculum for the course emphasizes a broad range of social science disciplines, so participants should be open to read a wide variety of texts including book chapters and scientific articles. A full reading list will be made available in advance of the course. The curriculum will include: foundational works of environmental justice; examples of the philosophical underpinnings of environmental justice; decolonial theory, feminist theory, critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism, theoretical perspectives on knowledge, and theories on social movements. While the reading list will change from year to year, the following are examples of key pieces of literature within the themes covered by the course, i.e. examples that could be part of a given year’s reading list.

1. Introductions to environmental justice:

Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. London: Penguin Classics

Walker, G. 2012. Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics. New York: Routledge.

Bullard, R.J. 1990. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality.  Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


2. Political and moral philosophy:

Fraser, N. 2008. Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. Columbia University Press.

Olson, K. 2008. Adding insult to injury. Nancy Fraser debates her critics. London: Verso.

Rawls, J. 1971. A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press.


3. Decolonial theory:

Coulthard, G. S. 2014. Red Skind, White Masks. Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Whyte, K.P. 2017. The Dakota Access Pipeline, Environmental Injustice and U.S. Colonialism. Red Ink 19(1): 154-169.


4. Critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism:

Harvey, D. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press.

Martinez-Alier, J. 2012. Environmental justice and economic degrowth: an alliance between two movements. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 23(1), 51-73.


5. Contentious politics and social movements:

Tarrow, S. 1998. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge University Press

Schlosberg, D. and Coles, R. 2016. The new environmentalism of everyday life: Sustainability, material flows and movements. Contemporary Political Theory 15, 160–181.


6. Knowledge:

Fricker, 2007. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford University Press.

Medina, J. 2018. Misrecognition and Epistemic Injustice. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 4(4):1-18.


7. Just sustainabilities:

Kallis, G. 2018. Degrowth. The Economy - Key Ideas

Scheidel, A., Temper, L., Demaria, F., & Martínez-Alier, J. 2018. Ecological distribution conflicts as forces for sustainability: an overview and conceptual framework. Sustainability science, 13: 585-598

The course is a predominantly a social science course. However, a social science background is not required, and the course is open to students from all disciplines including natural, life or health sciences.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

No academic qualifications are required. Willingness to engage with social science literature is required.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 48 hours
Type of assessment details
The exam is a 48-hour essay exam with a word limit of 2,000 words (excl. list of references) individual essay. The essay must respond to a set task.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner

12 hour essay exam in response to a specific task. 

Criteria for exam assessment

See Learning Outcomes

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 40
  • Preparation
  • 60
  • Excursions
  • 8
  • Project work
  • 50
  • Seminar
  • 18
  • Guidance
  • 10
  • Exam
  • 20
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 2
The number of seats may be reduced in the late registration period
Study Board of Natural Resources, Environment and Animal Science
Contracting department
  • Department of Food and Resource Economics
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Jens Friis Lund   (4-6d687176436c697572316e7831676e)

Jens Friis Lund
Mattias Borg Rasmussen
Rebecca Leigh Rutt

Saved on the 28-02-2023

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