Poster Paper: Producing Environmental Injustice: Legitimation Struggles Facing Pesticide-Intensive Agriculture in Ventura County

Friday, April 12, 2019
Continuing Education Building - Room 2070 - 2090 (University of California, Irvine)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kaitlyn Alvarez Noli, University of California, Irvine

The environmental justice movement stresses that all communities, regardless of their socio-demographic makeup, have the right to a safe and healthy environment. However, environmental harms disproportionately impact low-income, minority groups. I study the intensive use of pesticides in farmworker communities as an environmental justice issue. The practices and dispositions of agricultural heath stakeholders, including regulators, public officials, growers, industry representatives, farmworkers and community organizers, shape the ways that pesticide risk is distributed in the community. My overarching aim is to explore the cultural and social mechanisms that cause farmworkers and their families to continue to bear the burden of pesticide exposure. The question guiding the current study is: How do local stakeholders understand and experience pesticide use and how do their practices and perspectives shape agricultural health protections in Ventura County? To answer this question, I employed qualitative methodology, including observations, in-depth interviews, and archival research. I conducted over 200 hours of field observations at community and government meetings, regulatory outreach events, public hearings, labor forums, and rallies and shadowed the outreach work of local regulators with the County Agricultural Commissioner’s office and the Department of Pesticide Regulation. I conducted interviews with 93 stakeholders, including regulators, Spanish and Mixteco speaking farmworkers, growers, pesticide handlers, community organizers, and pest management experts. In addition, I have gathered numerous archival materials.

In the proposed presentation, I will use the concept of symbolic violence, as theorized by Bourdieu (1994), and the concepts of social boundaries and morality, as theorized by Lamont (2000), to explore how shared values and ideologies about agricultural work reinforce environmental injustices. I found that diverse agricultural health stakeholders share a worldview that values production quotas, risk-taking, resilience, hard work, and success. This emphasis on production and hard work diverts individual, organizational, and societal focus away from individual health risks. For example, in order to preserve job stability in a fast paced, dangerous work environment and to conform with social norms, agricultural employees have adopted collective actions that put farmworkers and their families at greater risk for harmful pesticide exposure. Direct supervisors have adopted collective actions, such as dismissing and denying pesticide complaints and threatening employees who voice concerns with termination and replacement. Farm workers have also adopted collective actions, such as keeping their concerns silent, self-treating pesticide symptoms, and working through injury and illness. The unique challenges and unpredictability of agricultural employees’ everyday lives and work lives interfere with adherence to popular policies and safety protocols that pesticide regulators prescribe.

Through inductive data analysis, I will shed light on the shortcomings of policy implementation that can only be uncovered by examining complex cultural and social phenomenon at the local level. I will also suggest immediate actions that local stakeholders can take to improve decision-making processes and practices and to enhance health protections for farm workers.