Slow justice: a framework for tracing diffusion and legacies of resistance

Efforts to advance environmental justice are often halting and uneven. How can we identify the longer-term significance of protests that seem to have failed? In this article, we turn to work on environmental injustice to examine the consequences of environmental justice movements over time and across space. We draw on the scholarship of Rob Nixon on ‘slow violence’: rather than the spectacular, visceral, and immediate violence of war, he argues that environmental degradation is a violence that operates in cumulative, slow-moving, accretive, and multi-causal ways. Borrowing – and flipping – Nixon’s conceptualization, we suggest that a parallel process of ‘slow justice’ is taking place. As with environmental damage, mobilization for environmental justice can have consequences that are dispersed in time and place, occur in non-linear forms, and operate at multiple scales. To track the pathways through which slow justice emerges, we develop a three-part typology of social movement connectivity. Using the categories of people, projects, and processes, we identify the geographically and temporally distanced social, material, and governance legacies of moments of resistance. Through a case study of mobilization against fossil fuel infrastructure in the Mackenzie Valley in northern Canada in the 1970s, we use the typology to trace how this moment of mobilization shaped other efforts of environmental justice organizing, including for campaigns in different regions and on different issue-areas. We argue that slow justice can reframe how we understand the outcomes of social mobilization projects, making visible the often obscure, indirect, and long-term accrued benefits of environmental justice work.