Political Ecology of Disease: Understanding Urban Ecosystems and Health Disparities

Political ecology of disease gained attention in the 1990s as a new focus for medical geography (Mayer, 1996). It provides a conceptual and analytical framework for understanding the complex interrelations between political, social, and economic factors and their effects on human health.


In this session, we aim to focus on political ecology as a context for studying Environmental Justice (EJ) issues at different scales. EJ is the most anthropocentric environmental movement (Taylor, 2000) that is largely rooted in local advocacy and has been successful in entering the policy arena. But as we have witnessed in the past, EJ discourse usually fights its way into the mainstream dialogue, when a massive tragedy is involved (e.g. Love Canal in 1978 and Warren County, North Carolina in 1982)and in the past few decades many have studied the potentials and shortcomings of addressing EJ at different levels of the government (Agyeman et al., 2010; Bullard, 1996; Bullard and Johnson, 2000). 


Health disparities across the country and the global burden of disease indicate that much needs to be done to expand the effective collaboration between environmental scientists and public health professionals for more accountable environmental policies.


This panel invites papers focused on political ecology of health and disease. The presenters can discuss theories or case studies on EJ issues and health disparities from a political ecology perspective. Building on the paper presentations, we aim to highlight the structural changes needed in order to pave the way for local environmental activism as a mean to ensure everyone’s right to live in a healthy environment.


If interested, please send your abstracts to Sima Namin at snamin@mcw.edu by December 28.




Agyeman, J., Bullard, R., & Evans, B. (2002). Exploring the Nexus: Bringing Together Sustainability, Environmental Justice and Equity. Journal of Space & Polity, 6(1), 77-90.


Bullard, R. (1996). Environmental Justice: It's More Than Waste Facility Siting. Social Science Quarterly, 77(3), 493-499.


Bullard, R., & Johnson, G. (2000). Environmental Justice: grassroots Activism and Its Impact on Public Policy Decision Making. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 555-578.


Mayer, J. (1996). The political ecology of disease as one new focus for medical geography. Progress in Human Geography, 20(4), 441-456.


Taylor, D. (2000). The rise of the environmental justice paradigm: Injustice framing and the social construction of environmental discourses. Journal of American Behavioral Scientist, 43(4), 508-580.


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