Holding up a mirror: researching symmetrically to explore exclusion, othering and whiteness in local environmental governance

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The positioning of minoritised and racialised groups such as Global South immigrants as deficient in knowledge, language or motivation is a form of othering prevalent in all spheres of Global North societies, and the environmental sector is no exception. In both academic literature and policy, there is an assumption that minoritised groups are “hard to reach” and less interested in sustainability than the usual white middle class environmental subjects. But what might the picture look like if it focused on those who have the power to make choices about whose interests matter and whose can be ignored? By holding up a mirror to the powerful and asking them to reflect on their own practices and assumptions, we centre the operation of structural inequality to show that the lack of inclusivity in sustainability policy is very often a product of structural whiteness rather than the deficiencies of racialised communities. This article draws on interviews with key informants involved in local environmental governance to explore how people in positions of power serve to obstruct, erase or facilitate the engagement of racialised communities in activities relevant for environmental change. We argue that a symmetrical approach to research and analysis is needed to avoid othering immigrants while surfacing whiteness as the context in which othering occurs. We call for greater attention to how white structural advantage shapes the design and implementation of local green agendas in order to develop just and transformative approaches to environmental policy-making
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
JournalLocal Environment
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2024


  • local environmental governance
  • immigrants
  • othering
  • whiteness
  • symmetry

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Consumption Institute
  • Sustainable Futures
  • Manchester Urban Institute


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