Keith’s research and writing focus on racial capitalism, environmental justice, environmental law and policy, political economy, and the state. He is also interested in digital research methods, the Digital Humanities, and critical approaches to and applications of Geographical Information Science (GIS).
Keith is currently working on a book manuscript in which he develops a theory of the racial environmental state. He uses this framework to examine the ways that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process has transformed the ways that race and environment operate within the US since the EIA process was institutionalized within the US National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. This research builds on Keith’s doctoral dissertation, titled “Institutionalizing Environmental Justice: Race, Place, and the National Environmental Policy Act,”
In both his book and dissertation, Keith combines archival and dialectical materialist methods with policy and legal analysis to examine case studies involving community struggles over the social production of space. His analysis of these case studies centers around the concept of the racial environmental state in order to explain how the EIA process functions to simultaneously and interdependently maintain both racial capitalism and uneven productions of nature, while also providing institutionalized pathways for challenging and reshaping the state as a site of racial and environmental conflict. The case studies highlight the capacities and limitations of this particular state formation for social and environmental justice organizing.
Keith’s second project builds on the foundation laid in his dissertation by addressing the rapid growth in state capacity around climate change. He aims to address discrepancies between discourses of climate justice on the one hand, and ecologically and economically sustainable development on the other. “Sustainable” growth is predicated on the assumption of capital’s continuing ability to produce surplus value, which history informs us is predicated on rendering racially differentiated populations as surplus, disposable, or incarcerable. Climate justice places social and environmental justice at the forefront of its strategies, with the undoing of racial capitalism being fundamental to addressing climate change.
The rift between these discourses of sustainable capitalist growth and radical climate justice emblematize the contradictions inherent to various understandings of “sustainability,” and the disconnects in theory, policy, and praxis that frame this project. This research addresses the question of how social and environmental justice organizations have responded to shifts in infrastructure and policy through their engagements with both sustainability and climate justice discourses in their organizing, campaigning, and fundraising activities. It further examines the ways that recent shifts in racial justice organizing discourses that reinforce the social and political ethics of valuing Black and Brown lives intersects with environmental and climate justice activism that ontologically centers the notion of justice around populations rendered as vulnerable and disposable by the racial state.
Publications and Talks
Keith has presented his work at invited talks in the UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies Department and the UC Davis School of Law Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies, as well as at the annual conferences for the Association of American Geographers, the American Studies Association, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, and the Asian American Studies Association.
“The Racial Environmental State and Struggles toward Abolition Ecologies” (submitted for review). Details the racial environmental state framework and uses it to revisit an abolitionist fight to stop prison expansion in California’s Central Valley in the early 2000s.
“US Empire and the Institutionalization of Environmental Knowledge” (Working Paper, 2013). Presented at the Association for Asian American Studies Annual Meeting. Highlights some of the early framing for what would later become Keith’s dissertation.
“Not Just a Walk in the Park” (Cities and the Environment, 2013). Lead author, coauthored with Andrew Maroko, Kristen Grady, Juliana Maantay, and Peter Arno. This article looks at the environmental health justice implications of the spatial distribution of parks with regard to pedestrian accessibility across New York City. It also discusses methodological ramifications of employing GIS and mixed-methods for this type of research.
Additional Research Interests
In addition to his research on race and the environment, Keith has been actively involved in NEH grant funded initiatives aimed at promoting the growth of Asian American Studies. Information about these projects is available on their respective websites:
- Building Asian American Studies across Community College Classrooms
- Asian Americans in New York: Film and Literature
Keith is also interested in the roles of digital technologies within community organizing, scholarly communications, and classroom pedagogies. He is an advocate and contributor to free and open source software, and has consulted on a number of Digital Humanities projects, such as DH Box, NYC Fashion Index, and Digital HUAC.