The (De)mystification of Environmental Injustice: A Dramatistic Analysis of Law
Volume 93, No. 3, Spring 2021
By Jeff Todd [PDF]

Although Kenneth Burke is the preeminent rhetorician of the modern era, and his theories have been applied to issues of social change and the environment (including by legal scholars), the role of “justice” and “law” in his critical method of dramatism have received only passing treatment. This Article is therefore the first in any discipline to consider what Burke means when he defines law as the “efficient codification of custom” — as the law develops, it moves further away from material conditions by stretching concepts in ways that lead to abstract legal fictions. The legal system thereby directs attention toward dubious identifications between the government and the governed and emphasizes ways in which the needs of both are unified. This rhetorical compensation for disunity actually “mystifies” injustice in subtle ways that reinforce the social status quo to the detriment of racial minorities, indigenous people, and the poor. The Article shows this mystification by analyzing transnational and international law and global issues related to environmental justice before concluding with suggestions for further research on how dramatism can provide a theoretical basis for effective social (and legal) change.