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Social Justice and the Human–Environment Relationship: Common Systemic, Ideological, and Psychological Roots and Processes

Abstract

Historical analyses and contemporary social psychological research demonstrate that prevailing systems, institutions, and practices espouse an ideology of conflict between humans and the natural world. The established paradigm of society espouses domination of and separation from the natural environment, and manifests in environmentally detrimental attitudes and practices. Ecological exploitation appears to stem from the same root socioeconomic processes as social injustice—the hierarchical arrangement of power which places some groups and the environment in a position devoid of power or rights. Accordingly, endorsement of social and environmental injustice is exacerbated by tendencies toward domination and hierarchy, such as social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism. Moreover, injustice is perpetuated by motivation to uphold and justify social structures and the dominant paradigm, which stifles societal change toward intergroup fairness and equality and motivates denial and neglect in the face of environmental problems. Ideological tendencies in service of the system, including political conservatism, belief in a just world, and free market ideology, contribute toward perpetuating injustice as well as anti-environmental sentiment and behavior. Considering the shared psychological and ideological underpinnings of social and environmental injustice point to important interventions, such as cultivating interdependence through contact, fostering inclusive representations, and harnessing ideological motives toward overcoming resistance to change, and carry implications for expanding the scope of justice theory, research, and practice.

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Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Erin Godfrey for her very helpful feedback during the writing process and John T. Jost for his comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Part of the work was completed while the author was supported by a Henry Mitchell MacCracken Fellowship from the New York University. Current research complies with ethical laws and standards accepted in the U.S.A.

Conflict of interest

The author has no financial relations with this funding source, and declares no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Irina Feygina.

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Feygina, I. Social Justice and the Human–Environment Relationship: Common Systemic, Ideological, and Psychological Roots and Processes. Soc Just Res 26, 363–381 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-013-0189-8

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Keywords

  • Social justice
  • Environmental attitudes and behaviors
  • Climate change
  • Ideology
  • Societal hierarchy
  • System justification