The Role of Victims in the Land of Fires: Preliminary Results from the Affiliation Network Analysis

The 34 actors interviewed (59 per cent men and 41 per cent women) have an average age of 43, the youngest being 23 and the eldest 62. More than 50 per cent hold a bachelor degree, 64 per cent of them live in a flat owned by family (the number of family members on average is three), and more than 30 per cent declared a family income of less than €15,000. All claimed to partake in environmentally friendly activities, such as participating in environmental NGOs or grassroots movements (94 per cent), separating their waste collection (100 per cent), endeavouring not to waste energy, water, and food (97 per cent), or using public transportation or bicycle instead of a car. However, almost all respondents declared that the environmentally friendly activities in which they engaged most involved conveying information about waste-related issues (59 per cent) and monitoring (19 per cent). About 80 per cent had no trust in political organizations at different levels (from municipalities up to the European Union), almost 88 per cent stated that they lived close to waste facilities, and 99 per cent identifies as victims of an environmental crime. Those who associated the feeling of being victims with their own bad health or with that of a relative had become activists only recently (after 2011). For the


vast majority of the respondents, being a victim meant living under conditions of psychological pressure and always worrying about the state of the environment in which they lived.

One can observe in depiction of the membership network below (Fig. 3.3) that after 2008 the density of the network increased, the architectural features of the system changed drastically, and the overall structure became completely connected. During the period 2004-2008, the membership network was represented by four completely disconnected subnetworks and consisted of a few actors. However, in the period 2008-2014, an increasing number of organizations, generally local, and their members entered the network by actively interacting with each other and forming a unique membership affiliation network. Over this second period, we can observe how the Coordination of Fires Committee occupied a central position in the network; this is a grassroots movement, established with the main objective of coordinating with precision the myriad of local committees that want to fight against the toxic smoke and the illegal burying of hazardous waste. As seen in Fig. 3.3, this movement succeeded in gaining a pivotal position in the evolving social network, coordinating and catalysing the movement around the emerging idea of environmental victims.

The year 2008 saw a turning point in the dynamic evolution of the PFAN under scrutiny. As emerged from our in-depth interviews, before 2008, the struggle among activists and regional and national governments focused predominately on urban waste plans and the unwanted incinerator in Acerra, even though there were activists who had been trying to turn the spotlight on hazardous waste since 2005. This change is reflected in the architecture of the affiliation network, where local associations and grassroots committees (e.g. 29th August Committee, Campania Network Health and Environment, Coordination of Fires Committee) play central roles in aggregating potential victims and in imparting to the local community a stronger awareness of the problem and its associated risks.

After 2008, the movements and existing committees were destabilized by a decisive intervention by the national government to impose 10 new substantially larger landfills, program 3 more incinerators, and declare all acts of dissent in the vicinity of a waste facility a penal felony (D’Alisa et al. 2010). Moreover, in 2011-2012, the focus of contention turned

The pollution fighters' affiliation networks

Fig. 3.3 The pollution fighters' affiliation networks (multi-relational networks) towards the correlation between the presence of illegal waste facilities and the increasing rate of diseases such as cancer and asthma.[1] All of these occurrences, on the one hand, increased the level of conflict and, on the other hand, contributed to the emergence of a clearer and more broadly shared feeling of being victims of environmental crimes.

Another interesting feature that emerged from the evolution of the affiliation network over time is the role of national/international institutions. In the depiction of the network, the turning point clearly does not generate any changes to the interactions between local communities and these institutions, thus indicating a mutual distrust. On the contrary, local communities display a growing trust and reliance on local associations and grassroots organizations.

  • [1] To put it simply, there are activists who associate the increasing rate of mortality and morbiditythrough cancer and other diseases with the presence of illegal waste sites, and there are governmentofficers who correlate the increasing rate of disease to the poor lifestyle of Campania’s citizens.
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