Judy Bentley

Deconstructing Symbolic Identities and Building on Eco-ability: Expanding the Domain of Environmental Justice

By, Judy K. C. Bentley


Since its inception in the late 20th Century, the theory and praxis of “environmental justice” has grown to engage a broad range of academic disciplines in three key areas: 1) defining “environment” to include not only what is left of the “natural” wild, but also the places where we live, work and play; 2) the causes of environmental justice and injustice (inequitable distribution of toxins and environmental risks); and 3) the construction of “the ‘justice’ of environmental justice” itself (Schlosberg, 2013, p. 38).

The nascent discipline of Eco-Ability (Nocella, Bentley, & Duncan, 2012) offers a rich opportunity to conceptualize the theory and praxis of environmental justice as an intersectional domain that seeks to liberate communities and individuals oppressed by the stigmatized identities of “dis-abled,” “aging,” and “non-human.”

This presentation employs Blumer’s (1969) symbolic interactionism theory and Foucault’s (1988) technologies of the self to explore the deconstruction and reconstruction of symbolic identities, toward mutually respectful relationships between all forms of life.

The expansion of environmental justice via the eco-ability movement breaks new ground in several ways. It excavates and examines the deep connections between formerly unrelated movements of social and environmental justice. It connects traditionally disparate theories, and seemingly disconnected communities of human and nonhuman animals, by exposing their common experiences of oppression. It seeks to facilitate innovative activism, in which scholars and advocates work together to achieve meaningful change.


Dr. Judy K. C. Bentley is an Associate Professor at the State University of New York (SUNY)-Cortland, in the Foundations and Social Advocacy Department, where she teaches graduate courses in research methods and inclusive special education. She is a co-editor and contributing author of Earth, Animal, and Dis-ability Liberation: The Rise of the Eco-ability Movement (2012, Peter Lang), and a co-editor of Animals and War (in-press, 2013, Lexington Books). Dr. Bentley is the current Director of the SUNY Cortland Institute for Disability Studies. She also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Access to Independence, Inc., an independent living center in Cortland County, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Social Advocacy and Systems Change, a peer-reviewed, online journal. Dr. Bentley is currently on sabbatical, conducting a needs assessment of the population age 60+ in Cortland County.


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