Skip to Main content

Health as dignity: political ecology, epistemology and challenges to environmental justice movements

By Marcelo Firpo Porto (1), Diogo Rocha Ferreira and Renan Finamore

National School of Public Health / Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil

(1) Author to whom any correspondence should be addressed



The article discusses conceptual and methodological issues related to environmental risks and health problems, in the context of environmental injustice and conflicts. In doing so, we use the conceptual frameworks of political ecology and what we call political epistemology. We propose a comprehensive vision of health that relates not only to illness and death, but also to life, nature, culture and fundamental human rights. We summarize this as health and dignity, echoing the voices of countless people who have been fighting for the right to life and the commons, and against the impacts of mining, agribusiness and the oil industry. Therefore our concept of health is intrinsically related to the capacity of affected communities and their democratic allies to face environmental conflicts (the exploitation of natural resources and the workforce with the systematic violation of rights related to work, land, environment and health). Mobilizations for environmental justice also struggle for the autonomy of communities, their cultures, and the right to maintain indigenous or peasant livelihoods. The way knowledge is produced plays a fundamental role in environmental justice mobilizations since issues of power are related to epistemological disputes and counter-hegemonic alternatives. Political epistemology is an alternative way of confronting crucial questions related to knowledge production, uncertainties and the manipulations of those who generate environmental injustices. Finally, we point to some strategies for strengthening the shared production of knowledge and the mobilization of communities that organize to confront environmental injustices.


political epistemology

political ecology of health

health and dignity



email hidden; JavaScript is required


EJOLT, EU 7th Framework Programme grant 266642 and editors and reviewers. This is the sixth article in Creighton Connolly, Panagiota Kotsila, and Giacomo D’Alisa (eds.) 2016. “Tracing narratives and perceptions in the politicalvecology of health and disease”, Special Section of the Journal of Political Ecology 24:1-124.