The University of Arizona

Health as dignity: political ecology, epistemology and challenges to environmental justice movements

Marcelo Firpo Porto, Diogo Rocha Ferreira, Renan Finamore


Abstract The article discusses conceptual and methodological issues related to environmental risks and health problems, in the context of environmental injustice and conflicts. In doing so, we use the conceptual frameworks of political ecology and what we call political epistemology. We propose a comprehensive vision of health that relates not only to illness and death, but also to life, nature, culture and fundamental human rights. We summarize this as health and dignity, echoing the voices of countless people who have been fighting for the right to life and the commons, and against the impacts of mining, agribusiness and the oil industry. Therefore our concept of health is intrinsically related to the capacity of affected communities and their democratic allies to face environmental conflicts (the exploitation of natural resources and the workforce with the systematic violation of rights related to work, land, environment and health). Mobilizations for environmental justice also struggle for the autonomy of communities, their cultures, and the right to maintain indigenous or peasant livelihoods. The way knowledge is produced plays a fundamental role in environmental justice mobilizations since issues of power are related to epistemological disputes and counter-hegemonic alternatives. Political epistemology is an alternative way of confronting crucial questions related to knowledge production, uncertainties and the manipulations of those who generate environmental injustices. Finally, we point to some strategies for strengthening the shared production of knowledge and the mobilization of communities that organize to confront environmental injustices. Key words: political epistemology, political ecology of health, health and dignity

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