The Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, a journal based at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, presents a special issue on Race and Environmental Equity.

Sophisticated observers know that illness and health are not just a matter of individual luck of the draw. So many of the basic inputs to well-being or sickness are made by society and social policy.  This remarkable special issue of the Du Bois Review provides a critical intervention in scholarship on how the environment figures in the link between race and well-being.

“From incisive new theoretical lenses to innovative and path-breaking original empirical research, David Takeuchi and his colleagues have pushed the boundaries of knowledge to new and important frontiers,” said Lawrence D. Bobo, W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Editor of the Du Bois Review. “This fresh and exciting collection of research will re-frame and re-energize research on the link between race, the environment, and consequences for well-being broadly understood.”

Guest edited by David T. Takeuchi (Boston College), Lisa Sun-Hee Park (UC-Santa Barbara), Yonette F. Thomas (American Association of Geographers), and Samantha Teixeira (Boston College), this issue (13.2) acknowledges and builds on the seminal impact of W.E.B. Du Bois’s legacy and presents the range and depth of research on race and environmental equity.

“We have long been admirers of the Du Bois Review and its mission to provide an ongoing, current forum for important conversations on race and society from a social science perspective,” explains Takeuchi. “To date, those of us in the social sciences haven’t studied the role of the environment as much as we should. But we hope that this issue will open collective eyes with regards to the real intersections between environmental equity and race, while inspiring further research at its crossroads.” 

According to the editorial team, it makes sense that this kind of inquiry should take place in the forum of a journal named after Du Bois. “While the science at the turn of the twentieth century explained behavior and social positions with genetic or cultural theories,” writes Takeuchi in his introduction to the special issue, “Du Bois was one of the few scholars who conceptualized and tested ideas about how racial and economic stratification influenced people’s social circumstances and lives.”

Over the course of ten complementary articles, Takeuchi’s team has curated an edition that seamlessly weaves together research culled from various methodologies. The end goals: to build both a comprehensive view of the real impact of the environment on race today, while also suggesting possible interventions to effect critical change into the future.

There are three main categories of research represented in the journal issue:

  • The theoretical analysis of large-scale data sets, including one study focused on Chicago that demonstrates that lead exposure has been a major pathway between racial segregation and African American disadvantage in the U.S.
  • Qualitative work on how people who may be within the communities represented in these data sets respond to the issues they face, such as one study into how the environment shapes identity and belonging among African American coal miners and their families.
  • Suggestions for innovative intervention using the environment in positive ways, specifically, through school gardens and parks.

Teixeira is hopeful that this journal issue will feature the emerging field of environmental justice, and help to provide a more holistic and nuanced understanding of just what this field is, and what it can be.

“Historically, when people say environmental justice, they think of recycling,” she explains. “It’s time to change the way we think about how the environment plays a major role in how we provide services to those who are living on the margins, in various communities across the globe.”

The copy for this post was provided by the Guest Editors and a version has been posted on the Boston College News Service.

To access this special edition for free click here.

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