Ambient air quality monitoring is increasingly prevalent, especially in communities on the front lines of environmental hazards. But air quality data alone does not necessarily advance environmental justice (EJ). Using philosopher Miranda Fricker’s idea of “epistemic injustice,” I argue that EJ activists seek not only additional data, but also alternatives to expert frameworks for making sense of it. The websites and other infrastructures created for collecting, presenting, and interpreting environmental monitoring data should thus be designed to support community members in their efforts to advance ways of understanding data that are consistent with their local and experiential knowledge—by integrating qualitative and quantitative data, enabling collective exploration of data, and supporting the circulation of new representations of environmental problems. I discuss “Meaning from Monitoring,” a participatory design project with residents of refinery communities in the San Francisco Bay area, as an attempt to put these principles into practice, showing how its products so far both advance existing information infrastructures and as yet do not fully manifest environmental justice goals.
Gwen Ottinger is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University, where she directs the Fair Tech Collective, a research group committed to using social science theory and methods to inform the development of technologies that foster environmental justice. She is co-editor of Technoscience and Environmental Justice: Expert Cultures in a Grassroots Movement, and author of Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges (winner of the Society for Social Studies of Science’s 2015 Rachel Carson Prize).Add to my calendar