From Performative Participation to Political Power with Dr. Breena Holland, Working Wednesdays


Williams 623 and via Zoom


Logo for Lehigh University's Environmental Initiative

From Performative Participation to Political Power

Black and Brown racialized communities often confront structural and procedural barriers that limit their power to influence decisions that increase their exposure to environmental harms. While people in these communities are increasingly asked to participate in stylized forms of community engagement, they are often ignored by elected officials and then criticized for their lack of participation. This produces “engagement suppression” (Batts et al., 2021) and fails to address the causes and consequences of distrust in government. The talk will address this problem by proposing how to understand and secure the kind of political power that will counteract such silencing and effectively build community capacity. We will first consider the extent to which the relevant inequalities of power can be addressed through forms of community engagement that are modeled on ideals of democratic deliberation. Given the prevalence and limits of the deliberative model, the talk will then consider how those who are subjected to community engagement can draw on the important role they play in legitimizing decision processes to challenge or secure a more substantive form of political power within those processes.

Breena Holland is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative at Lehigh University. She is currently conducting air pollution research on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ethylene oxide in the Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania), which provides the context for her presentation.

Breena Holland stands against a black fence in Philadelphia.

PPEH offers a lunch series, Working Wednesdays, designed to showcase in-progress Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) straddling theoretical and practical environmental concerns. These sessions take place on Wednesdays, 12:30-1:30 sharp.

All sessions are open to the Penn community but require RSVP. Grab a lunch and join us in person or on Zoom!