Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 941–953 | Cite as

Environmental justice and care: critical emancipatory contributions to sustainability discourse

  • Daniela Gottschlich
  • Leonie Bellina


Sustainability has become a powerful discourse, guiding the efforts of various stakeholders to find strategies for dealing with current and future social-ecological crises. To overcome the latter, we argue that sustainability discourse needs to be based on a critical-emancipatory conceptualization. Therefore, we engage two such approaches—environmental justice approaches informed by a plural understanding of justice and feminist political economy ones focusing on care—and their analytical potential for productive critique of normative assumptions in the dominant sustainability discourse. Both of these approaches highlight aspects of sustainability that are particularly relevant today. First, although sustainable development was conceptualized from the outset based upon a twofold notion of justice (intra- and intergenerational), the integration of justice in the dominant sustainability discourse and praxis often manifests merely as a normative aspiration. Meanwhile, the environmental justice and care approaches offer conceptualizations of justice that can act as a powerful lever and as transformation-strategy. Second, the dominant sustainability discourse largely remains within a neoliberal economic framework that continues to promote economic growth as the means to reach prosperity while neglecting the bases of every economy: care work and nature. Its focus lies solely on paid work and the market economy. By integrating (a) social and ecological ‘reproductivity’ (unpaid care and subsistence work as well as nature) and (b) democratic processes for just distribution of environmental burdens and benefits, as well as participatory equity in relevant decision making, feminist political economy and environmental justice approaches offer substantial strategies towards building humane, just and caring societies.


Environmental justice Feminist economics Sustainability to come 



Development Alternatives for Women for a New Era


Community supported agriculture


United Nations Conference on Environment and Development


World Commission on Environment and Development

UN Rio+20

United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development


United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Diversity, Nature, Gender and Sustainability (diversu) e.V.LüneburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Ethics and Transdisciplinary Sustainability ResearchLeuphana University LüneburgLüneburgGermany

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