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Environmental Justice Spotlight – Ways of knowing and understanding

How do we understand and know environmental justice.

A Representative Approach

Environmental degradation and improvement are felt unevenly by populations across the globe, and this disaggregated experience is an important consideration in environmental justice. Since the Enlightenment period, debates and research on environmental issues have been dominated by the North Atlantic societies that extended their power through principally violent means. Research by Newcastle academics works to broaden the inclusion of diverse narratives on the environment to include representative coalitions of populations, challenging hegemonic forms of knowing about and regulating the world around us.

Challenging the Status Quo

Feminist approaches to climate science, foregrounding objectives of equality, justice, diversity of input, and openness, are not particularly present in mainstream approaches to understanding climate change. Tina Sikka’s research (e.g., 2018) shows that mitigation and adaptation solutions demonstrate this: the proliferation of a multitude of high-tech approaches in recent years evidences a reliance on principles of empiricism and objectivity and the expense of public participation. A greater diversity of voices and expertise in researching potential solutions could have given greater impetus to the need for enacting broad structural reform in the ways we engage with the environment. Tina expanded this research into a full-length book, Climate Technology, Gender, and Justice: The Standpoint of the Vulnerable, which she discusses in this podcast episode from 2019.


Ruth Machen (2018) also explores the ways in which dominant ways of presenting scientific knowledge influence the ways in which citizens and communities are presented with information related to climate governance. Organisations working at the boundary of science and personal experience are found to be active in opening up and/or closing down particular types of climate discourses, often reinforcing dominant neoliberal framings. Further work (2021), funded by Newcastle’s Global Urban Research Unit, demonstrates ways in which this dynamic is reinforced by data-centric modes of creating climate knowledge.


Sue Farran’s research (e.g., 2019) on marine protection areas, zones designated by international authorities to restrict human activity, shows that seemingly well-intentioned legislation in the name of conservation is negligent of the lived experiences of indigenous island and coastal populations. Efforts to regulate the behaviour of these groups can include patronising assumptions about patterns of fishing activities, with the everyday lives of indigenous groups subsumed by global-level political gamesmanship that pays lip service to real-world conservation challenges.


Understanding diverse worldviews and perspectives implies exploring ways of researching the environment beyond those historically dominant in academia. In April 2022, Amy Robson organised a symposium event, It’s Not Climate Change – It’s Everything Change, that brought together researchers from around the world looking at the diversity of modes of understanding, responding to, and living with climate change. Amy’s own research uses arts-based methods to consider the role of climate activism, particularly direct action, in the production of futures.


The way in which we understand the environment is increasingly being broadened to incorporate the nonhuman. For example, Ben Bowsher’s PhD research is exploring how different ways of sensing and knowing the relationship between ourselves and the planet – or, ‘nature’ – opens and forecloses different political possibilities. The Anthropocene Research Group, convened by researchers from across disciplines, discusses and collaborates on work that understands the current planetary epoch as identifiable by the prominence of human influence.


Research staff

Amy Robson*, Ben Bowsher, Jen Bagelman, Ruth Machen, Sue Farran, Tina Sikka

Research outputs

  • Farran, S. (2019) ‘Marine Protected Areas and Indigenous Rights’ In: Stephen Allen, Nigel Bankes and Øyvind Ravna (eds), The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Marine Areas. Oxford: Hart Publishing. 319–340.
  • Machen, R. (2018) Towards a critical politics of translation: (Re)Producing hegemonic climate governance. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 1(4), 494–515.
  • Machen, R. (2021) Thinking algorithmically: The making of hegemonic knowledge in climate governance, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 46, 555–569.
  • Sikka, T. (2018) Technology, Gender, and Climate Change: A Feminist Examination of Climate Technologies. Societies 2018 8(4), 109.
  • Sikka, T. (2019) Climate Technology, Gender, and Justice: The Standpoint of the Vulnerable. New York: Springer Cham. Reser A, McNeill L, Ortenberg R, Sikka T. (2019) Episode 21: How women built the environmental movement. Lady Science Podcast.


*Amy Robson is co-supervised between Newcastle University and Durham University.


Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences