May 5, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2007

Johnson, Cathryn
Sociology Department


Project Summary

In our course, Social Interaction Processes, SOC 465, we examine three fundamental processes in social interaction: status, power, and justice. Our focus on status and power reveals processes that underlie the development and reproduction of inequalities in groups, which often engender conflict. The third topic captures one form of evaluating those inequalities – i.e., the fairness of differences in interaction, in resource distributions, etc. Moreover, justice processes involve examination of factors that affect perceptions of injustice and reactions to it, both by individuals and by groups. We apply our justice analysis at the community level, focusing on perceptions of and reactions to environmental injustice. Specifically, we discuss how environmental justice is defined (e.g., Pellow 2000) and what leads to concerns for environmental justice. In doing so, we examine a case study on environmental justice (see Pellow [2000]) to determine how the status and power dynamics between stakeholders combine with contextual factors to affect perceptions and responses to an environmental justice issue. As part of our study of justice processes, students will develop a survey study that addresses environmental beliefs and participation in efforts to ameliorate environmental injustices. To achieve this goal, we explore current measures of environmental attitudes and behaviors and investigate how they have been used in several recent studies (e.g., Clayton 2000; Barkan 2004; Johnson et al. 2004). In summary, the key to this course is to tell a story of how status, power, and justice processes are interrelated, and to demonstrate this interconnection through a case study on environmental justice, and conclude with an execution of a survey study on an environmental justice issue. Our participation in the Piedmont Project highlighted for us the unique yet frequently overlooked ways in which the study of environmental issues brings together theoretical concerns about status, power, and justice. In addition, exchanges with colleagues involved in the Piedmont Project suggested to us resources, examples, and assignments relevant to our class topic. For example, students are asked to analyze a newspaper article of their choosing that represents an environmental situation perceived to be unjust by some people.

Course Syllabus attached.

Download: Johnson_2007.pdf (145.2 KB)

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