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Rethinking environmental justice: capability building, public knowledge and the struggle against traffic-related air pollution

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Maarten Loopmans, Linde Smits, Anneleen Kenis

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)705-723
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space
Issue number3
Published1 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Anneleen Kenis' work was funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO). Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2021.

King's Authors


For more than a decade, a broad social movement has organised significant opposition to the expansion of the Antwerp ring road. By linking the very mobile, intangible and unplaceable problem of traffic-related air pollution to the highly local, concrete, immobile issue of the highway, they succeeded in creating the largest mobilization against air pollution ever in Belgium. A distributive justice discourse which portrayed Antwerp residents as being unfairly affected has played a crucial role in this endeavour. At the same time, the movement has struggled to involve and represent those who will be most affected by the ring road extension. Low income and ethnic minority residents living close to the ring road are strikingly absent from the movements’ ranks and tend to be silenced in its discourse. In this paper, we scrutinise this disparity between the social composition of the most affected areas and the social composition of the movement dealing with the issue, and reflect on the movement’s practices of knowledge production and dissemination from an environmental justice perspective. We highlight the need for expanding environmental justice beyond a merely distributive approach and argue that environmental justice movements need to see knowledge dissemination and public pedagogy as more than just a mobilizing strategy. Without pursuing equity in the distribution of networks, capabilities and knowledge, enhancing the possibilities of those who are most affected to develop their own strategies, environmental justice is difficult to realize.

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