Title page for ETD etd-12022010-215328

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Schnitzer, Marcy Hammet
Author's Email Address mhs@vt.edu
URN etd-12022010-215328
Title Actually Existing Democracy and Energy Justice: The Case of the Coalfields Delegation to the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development
Degree PhD
Department Government and International Affairs
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Stephenson, Max O. Jr. Committee Chair
Bailey, Carol A. Committee Member
Natter, Wolfgang George Committee Member
Rich, Richard C. Committee Member
  • Appalachia
  • Energy Extraction
  • Transnational Justice
Date of Defense 2010-11-09
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation explores the concept of Actually Existing Democracy in the transnational public sphere through the experiences of the Coalfields Delegation to the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (UNCSD). In particular, this research examines the differential impacts of energy extraction on local communities, and what the term justice might usefully mean in the context of transnational energy politics. I provide an account of justice that engages with the theories of Nancy Fraser and Pierre Bourdieu and mines their insights to provide a novel intervention in debates about justice and the public sphere. I start by defining justice as a transnational construct using theories of the nation-state and then discuss the nature and roles of counterpublics, specifically the Coalfields Delegation, in transnational justice. I then explore Fraser’s constructs of redistribution, recognition, and representation, viewing each through Bourdieu’s theories of habitus and field. I show that the process through which counterpublics seek justice is mediated through the operations of power in the economic, cultural, and political fields (adopting Fraser’s definition of culture over Bourdieu’s). To achieve justice, it is insufficient to suggest that movement in a field proceeds directionally; rather, Fraser and Bourdieu are in accord in suggesting that these fields need to be deconstructed (Fraser’s term) by counterpublics adopting heterodox practices to challenge the established ordering of the field. Energy injustice, in the particular form of mountaintop removal coal mining, occurs locally, yet is inherently global in its implications through the processes of international trade and consumption. Therefore, the appropriate level at which to examine these seemingly “local” concerns is that of the transnational. In the case of the Coalfields Delegation, appeals have been made at the local, state, and national levels, to no avail. The group pursued several interlinked strategies at the UN. To the extent that their plight is one of economic disparity, the Coalfields Delegation has sought to redefine economic power in a manner different from global capitalism. Where cultural marginalization has been used as a basis for justifying disparate impacts on mining communities, the Delegation decidedly used its own formulation of “culture” as a strategic publicity mechanism. In pursuing representation at the UNCSD, the Delegation began defining its concerns in global terms, suggesting human rights violations, and placing coal mining within the context of global sustainability and climate change. However, in so doing, members of the Delegation started to reconceive themselves in solidarity with other similarly affected groups represented at the UNCSD. Their quest for global redress has not been one of straightforward acts of agency, but rather should be viewed as an oscillation between agency and structure. Fields exert counter-pressure, however, as the Delegation members grew in experience and sophistication, their habitus changed accordingly. My research explores the dynamic play of these social forces by linking the ideas of public sphere and field, counterpublic and habitus, to develop a new way in which researchers might both describe and trace advocacy group efforts to secure justice in the transnational public sphere.
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