Racial formation, environmental racism, and the emergence of Silicon Valley

Lisa Sun Hee Park, David N. Pellow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The environmental justice literature is characterized by a strange fact: the vast majority of research on this topic is about racial inequality, yet there is almost no mention of social scientific theories of race and racism. It is as if statistical correlations alone are enough to prove or disprove the existence of racism. While there are exceptions to this rule, the overwhelming majority of environmental justice studies make no mention of well-established theoretical frameworks on racism from the social sciences. This article is an effort to place the problem of environmental racism/inequality in the broader context of sociological theories of racism. To that end we focus on the theory of racial formation - specifically the concept of racial projects - and extend this model to the question of environmental racism. By applying this theoretical framework to the case of immigrants and people of color in Silicon Valley, we argue that institutional racism - as is the case with environmental racism - is a complex set of practices supported by the linked exploitation of people and natural resources. We draw on both the discursive and material/structural practices of racial projects in Silicon Valley's long history of environmental and social justice struggles to illustrate how environmental racism functions within a racial formation framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-424
Number of pages22
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004


  • Environmental justice
  • High-tech industry
  • Immigrants
  • People of color/minorities
  • Social inequality
  • Work and labor


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