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UTokyo Seminar Report: Building Critical Capacities through Environmental Injustice Case Study Research with Dr. Kim Fortun

Title: Building Critical Capacities through Environmental Injustice Case Study Research with Dr. Kim Fortun

Workshop description

Addressing current and accelerating environmental injustice around the world will depend on students we are educating today. Students need to learn about many types of environmental hazards and how to quickly characterize the different contexts and communities impacted by them. They need experience working with different kinds of data and to develop sharp analytical skills (aware of the many ways data can be misused). They need to learn to collaborate, leveraging tools that allow them to connect with people in different places, with different perspectives. They need to become skilled and creative communicators, mindful of different kinds of audiences. Cultivating this tangle of capabilities is the goal of my teaching (in an undergraduate course, “Environmental Injustice,” and in a MS program formed after the Fukushima disaster to educate a new generation of radiation health experts) and of the recently launched Beyond Environmental Injustice Teaching Collective. Student case study research — done individually or in research groups — focused on diverse communities and the environmental hazards they face is at the center of the effort. In this presentation, I’ll share the Environmental Injustice Case Study Framework and how we have mobilized it both in our classrooms and in the communities we study.

Workshop schedule: 

10-10:05am: Introduction

10:05-10:45: First session

10:45-10:55: Q&A

10:55-11:00: Breaktime

11:00-11:35: Second session

11:35-11:45: Q&A

Global Faculty Development Program

Report by Isabelle Giraudou, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Organization for Programs on Environmental Sciences

On December 7, 2020 GFD had the pleasure of hosting a 2-part talk given by Dr. Kim Fortun. Dr. Fortun is a Professor in the University of California Irvine’s Department of Anthropology. Her research and teaching focus on environmental risk and disaster, data practices and politics, and experimental ethnographic methods and research design. Currently, she is working on an array of collaborative projects, including the Asthma Files, the Quotidian Anthropocene Project, and the Transnational Disaster STS COVID-19 Project, all supported by the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography. Dr. Fortun also served as President of the Society for Social Studies of Science, the international scholarly society representing the field of Science and Technology Studies, STS (2017- 2019).
In her talk, the first of a series of workshop events planning to focus on case-based education, Dr. Fortun discussed student case study research as a specific teaching/learning method. Used in two of her courses (an undergraduate course, “Environmental Injustice,” and a MS program formed after the Fukushima disaster to educate a new generation of radiation health experts) as well as in the recently launched Beyond Environmental Injustice Teaching Collective, student case study research addresses the environmental hazards faced by diverse communities. As several of my colleagues in the field of environmental studies, and myself included, have been expressing a stronger interest in innovative case-based education over the past few years, I found very inspiring Dr. Fortun’s Environmental Injustice Case Study Framework and its mobilization across different classrooms and studied communities.
Case-based learning has a variety of meanings, and the specific use of case studies in various disciplines appears highly dependent on both the type of problems addressed and the nature of the scientific discipline itself. As a student, I was subjected to teaching using law cases: typically, legal analysis as taught/learned through the legal reading of cases is rather insensitive to context and legal discourse tends to erase the whole story; in this sense, and as once observed, much that lay people would consider crucial to an assessment of whether justice has been done remains left out. Years after, and now teaching environmental legal studies in a non-monodisciplinary environment, my main concern is to develop a completely different teaching strategy by prioritizing the use of embedded cases (including when addressing judicial decisions, for example climate change litigation cases).
I first discovered Dr. Fortun’s work a few years ago when I was planning a PEAK ES course on Environmental Governance and STS, with a focus on Disaster-STS as an emergent subfield of study. More recently, her work energized the preparation of other of my classes, including an Introduction to Critical Environmental Studies, partly based on the Quotidian Anthropocene Project, as well as a new case-based PEAK ES course on Law and Disaster. Fundamentally, all Dr. Fortun’ projects aim to understand and draw out how significance and marginality are produced, in particular in knowledge systems, political-economic systems and ethical imaginaries. This interest does not stem only from her theoretical work but also from her life-long empirical work through which she has learned about ‘the many processes – large scale and small – through which people and things count, and others do not’. Building on this critical understanding about what makes a case, Dr. Fortun’s Environmental Injustice Case Study Framework (link below) has been designed to stimulate students’ awareness about the dynamic interactions between scales (local to planetary) and systems (ecological, atmospheric, technological, economic, political, social, cultural and so on) at stake in any environmental issue. Used, for example, in a case-based class dealing with the legal aspects of climate change, such a Framework helps open the discussion to competing narratives, a greater variety of ‘legal’ perspectives (including the most critical ones), and diverse ways of problematizing a wider range of issues from the regulatory viewpoint; ultimately, it also helps broaden the reflection on what might render issues legible/eligible for governance, beyond the scope of technical definitions, legal qualifications and existing regulatory instruments.
Another inspiring aspect of Dr. Fortun’s own understanding and implementation of case-based education, is her strong emphasis on the possible diversification of inquiry-based modes of learning through the creation of intentional learning communities involving participants in shared production of meaning and knowledge-creating practices. Indeed, blurring the lines between courses and disciplines, communities of inquiry can be understood as a possible response to some higher education problems, such as the fragmented nature of the curriculum or the growing complexity and interdisciplinary nature of contemporary ‘environmental’ issues.
Related links:
o   Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography:
o   Disaster-STS Network / Environmental Injustice:
o   Case study framework:
o   Disaster-STS Network / Quotidian Anthropocenes