Critical environmental justice and the nature of the firm

Abstract

The critical environmental justice (CEJ) framework contends that inequalities are sustained through intersecting social categories, multi-scalarity, the perceived expendability of marginalized populations, and state-vested power. While this approach offers new pathways for environmental justice research, it overlooks the role of firms, suggesting a departure from long-standing political-economic theories, such as the treadmill of production (ToP), which elevate the importance of producers. In focusing on firms, we ask: how do firms operationalize diverse social forces to produce environmental injustice? What organizational logics sustain these inequalities? To understand the firm-level dynamics shaping treadmill acceleration and environmental injustice, we utilize two concepts—social embeddedness and managerial authority—from economic sociology research on firms. The former refers to the social and non-economic factors that guide economic decision-making, whereas the latter refers to the power that reinforces worksite hierarchies. This theoretical paper argues that social embeddedness and managerial authority interact within firms to produce an organizational logic that sustains environmental injustice and ecological disorganization. We draw from historical and contemporary evidence on sugarcane plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean, with cases ranging from the colonial period to the present day. By bringing economic sociological concepts to bear on the CEJ and ToP frameworks, we advance debates on how firm-level dynamics shape environmental inequalities.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We do not capitalize the word “black” when it appears in lower case in the original quoted sources.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions. Any mistakes are the sole responsibility of the authors.

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Carrillo, I., Pellow, D. Critical environmental justice and the nature of the firm. Agric Hum Values (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-021-10193-2

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Keywords

  • Critical environmental justice
  • Treadmill of production
  • Firms
  • Social embeddedness
  • Managerial authority
  • Plantations