From our current issue, Antipode 45(3), here we have University College London’s Vanesa Castán Broto speaking about her paper ‘Symbolic Violence and the Politics of Environmental Pollution Science: The Case of Coal Ash Pollution in Bosnia and Herzegovina‘.
Vanesa is a lecturer in UCL’s Development Planning Unit, working on technology and knowledge and how they mediate the relationship between society and the environment. Her Antipode paper takes as its point of departure the observation that environmental justice movements too often contest environmental knowledge by engaging in scientific debates; this, she suggests, implies an acceptance of the predominance of scientific discourses over alternative forms of knowledge. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of ‘symbolic violence’, Vanesa argues that this engagement with hegemonic forms of knowledge production might reproduce, rather than challenge, existing social and environmental inequalities. The argument is developed with reference to a case study of coal ash pollution in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The case study shows how the construction of knowledge in a scientific project led to the exclusion of local definitions of the situation and the dismissal of their experiences of environmental pollution, and it demonstrates that the capacity of different actors to put forward their interpretation of an environmental issue depends on the forms of symbolic violence that emerge within hegemonic discourses of the environment.
Vanesa would like to thank Gynna Franco Millan (Development Planning Unit, University College London) for her invaluable help with the recording and editing.