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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Wrestling with sustainability: Growth, land use development and the struggle for justice in Los Angeles
by Breidenbach, Janis Marie, Ph.D., Prescott College, 2010, 256; 3403313
Abstract (Summary)

In the decades since the 1970s, major shifts in economic theory and political ideology have taken place, resulting in a widening gap between the rich and poor within and between the world's major economies—all occurring in the name of, and on behalf of, material growth. Urban centers responded accordingly to these shifts, allowing the emergence of development elites (growth machines) that dominated local government. These, in turn, have transformed into global cities where the support work for a global economy takes place. One of these is Los Angeles.

These tectonic shifts have not occurred in a vacuum, however, nor have they occurred without protest and contestation. While the concept of an “alternative” society has been ideologically swept aside by the dominant world order of neoliberal capitalism, thousands of economic justice organizations have mobilized to not only protest these shifts but to struggle for a more just distribution of the economy’s wealth. Particularly in global cities and major urban centers, a type of activism emerged in the 1990s that contests the implementation of the neoliberal city. Known loosely as economic justice organizations, these groups identify grievances and make social movement claims regarding how their cities should be developed and grow, what should be built and who should build it, and how the social surplus from this development should be distributed. A new form of organizing, neither traditional community organizing nor community development practice itself, these organizations took root and grew in the interstices that opened during the transition from urban growth machine to global city.

During the same period, environmental justice organizations have organized and grown. Using a “rights” frame, these groups protest the disparate environmental impacts of untrammeled growth on their communities and demand redistribution of environmental “bads” and “goods”. Although stemming from different positions within the dominant structure, these two forms of contestation have similar methods and have begun to work together in coalitions that did not exist two decades ago.

I explore these organizations in Los Angeles, theorizing their political development as actors in the city-building process. I examine this process and question whether or not the combination of economic disparity and crisis, combined with ecological decline results in a questioning of neoliberal capitalism and its growth paradigm, whether or not these organizations and their campaigns reflect a systemic critique of the social order.

I argue that the work of these two types of activism are, in fact, converging, and that this convergence may be theorized as a struggle for sustainable justice. I examine the role that the development of land use plays in this process of frame convergence and find that those organizations more closely engaged in coalitions and campaigns around issues of growth and development are the most likely to be incorporating a conjoined frame of sustainable justice.

Although the work of these organizations can be theorized as counter-hegemonic, the limitations imposed by lack of an overarching political construct within which to nest these campaigns limits the systemic critique implicit in the demands. I suggest that these groups are transitional—their work lifts up the role of urban development and city-building—work that in a larger political framework may be the core of a social movement contesting both economic and ecological injustice. I close the research project with a brief exploration into a new coalitional form created to justly implement California’s global warming legislation.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Parajuli, Pramod
Commitee: Bonacich, Edna, Lipsitz, George, Sze, Julie
School: Prescott College
Department: Education / Sustainability Education
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-A 71/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Sustainability, Social structure, Urban planning
Keywords: California, Community development, Economic justice, Environmental justice, Ideology, Neoliberal capitalism, Social movements
Publication Number: 3403313
ISBN: 978-1-109-76665-3
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