North End Narratives: Grid-Group Analysis for Environmental Justice in Hamilton, Ontario
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This paper explores environmental inequality and perceptions of environmental risk among people living in proximity to the industrial sector of Hamilton, Ontario (Canada). This sector is adjacent to Hamilton’s lower city, where on average socioeconomic status is low and rates of poverty, ill-health, and exposure to air pollution are high compared to the upper City of Hamilton (“the Mountain”). Using interviews with lower Hamilton residents and local environmental activists and ethnographic data, I seek to assess whether the grid-group and Cultural Theory approaches developed by anthropologist Mary Douglas are suited as tools for recognizing and analysing perceptions of environmental risk among Hamiltonians and making visible populations or cultural views that may be overlooked otherwise. I also assess grid-group and Cultural Theory as means for improving risk communication and informing public policy-making regarding environmental health hazards. I conclude that grid-group and Cultural Theory can serve as valuable tools for making visible some of the social influences on risk perception, but also identify drawbacks of the classificatory nature of Cultural Theory. As such, this paper contributes to the existing literature on environmental risk and offers an exploratory approach to this topic by using grid-group and Cultural Theory as a framework for conceiving of risk.