The spatialization and temporalization of environmental suffering

Daniel Sullivan, Roman Palitsky, Harrison Schmitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Many people live in circumstances of environmental suffering: exposure to contaminated natural resources and toxic chemicals due to a history of accident or misuse. Environmental suffering is disproportionately experienced by politically, ethnically, and economically disadvantaged group members. An analysis rooted in the concept of false consciousness (Gabel, 1975) suggests that environmental suffering narratives tend toward perspectival distortions. Although narratives from disadvantaged group members may contain defensive distortions, these are warranted by experiences of environmental suffering, and expert narratives also regularly contain distortions. Disadvantaged narratives of environmental suffering tend toward spatializing distortions: emphasizing spatial aspects, objectifying people and agents, and fixating on a tragic past. Advantaged narratives of environmental suffering tend toward temporalizing distortions: emphasizing temporal aspects, refusing to clearly assign blame, and fixating on a "miraculous" future. We present a preliminary supporting study, using quantitative text analysis, of parallel environmental suffering narratives from community members, EPA oficials, and other experts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-293
Number of pages23
JournalNarrative Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 19 2020


  • Contamination narratives
  • Environmental racism
  • False consciousness
  • Redemption narratives
  • Space
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • History
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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