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Eco‐socialism/Eco‐feminism

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  • Université de Paris Saclay - UPSay, FRANCE

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This is the official on-line version (published in 2009) of a dialogue originally published in Capitalism Nature Socialism CNS Vol.2 (1991).
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Ecosocialism/Ecofeminism
Ariel Salleh & Martin O'Connor
Published online: 25 Feb 2009.
To cite this article: Ariel Salleh & Martin O'Connor (1991) Ecosocialism/Ecofeminism, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2:1, 129-137, DOI: 10.1080/10455759109358432
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DISCUSSION
Eco-Socialism/Eco-Feminism
i.
Going back to its earliest issue, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism has
contained references to "eco-feminism." However, each use of the term
has been clouded in misconceptions which beg to be dissolved. While
working on what might be called another level of abstraction, the eco-
feminist project parallels that of ecosocialism. The two political strands
are complementary, and it is fairly clear that a self-consistent eco-
socialist formulation will need to accommodate an eco-feminist analysis.
Of course, the converse is equally true. To begin then: eco-feminism is
an emergent politics already 15 years old. Its history lists international
initiatives by women on nuclear weapons, pesticides, genetic
engineering, water and forest conservation, carcinogenic additives in
processed food, to name a few such interventions. It has a literature of
two dozen or so scholarly texts and two hundred or more articles, of
sufficient merit to be interesting at academic post-graduate level.
1
Substantive areas taken up by eco-feminist theorists range from history
of science to epistemology critique, to environmental ethics, challenges
to bourgeois economics, to Marxist theory and Green politics.
2
1
The first seminar on eco-feminism was taught by Ynestra King at the Institute for So-
cial Ecology; but several campuses have now developed an interest. At the University of
Chicago, 27 graduates from Divinity to Public Policy took a course with the author in 1989.
It has been offered at the University of New South Wales, Australia, since 1984.
2
Representative eco-feminist books include Rosemary Ruether, New Woman, New
Earth (NY: Dove, 1975); Leonie Caldecott and Stephanie Leland, eds., Reclaim the Earth
(London: Women's Press, 1983); Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive (London: Zed, 1989).
CNS 2 (1), 1991
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As Lori Ann Thrupp points out, the diverse paradigms of
contemporary feminist thought find a new synthesis in eco-feminism
its organizing theme our global crisis. Even so, eco-feminist writers
draw differently on the feminist tradition, some emphasize the radical
feminist sense of "difference;" others develop from socialist feminism;
and there are others.
3
Not only are there paradigmatic variations within
eco-feminism as there are in the nascent eco-socialist analysis that
appear in CNS but since eco-feminism is an international
phenomenon, there are typical regional variations as well. The spiritually
oriented eco-feminism of the USA West Coast, for example, contrasts
with socialist approaches in Europe and Australia.
So to address some popular misconceptions about eco-feminism:
Sometimes the standpoint is taken to imply a reascription of absolute
"feminine" and "masculine" "biological destinies." Yet, it is hard to
imagine how any feminist who has completed the obligatory intellectual
work-out through Marxism, psychoanalysis and post-structuralism could
lapse into biologism. In fact, the social construction of gender is step
number-one in feminist thought, just as determination by mode of
production is an a priori for socialists. Eco-feminists do talk about
"masculine" and "feminine" as universal, or at least commonly recurring,
cultural categories though. And they note that these are socially imposed
as personal attributes on sexed human beings, sometimes with a very bad
fit.
But eco-feminists are mainly interested in structural outcomes of
the asymmetrical valuation of gender dualisms: "masculine-reason-
light-order-culture" versus "feminine-emotion-dark-chaos-nature."
These patriarchal gender images becomes enmeshed in social institutions
in a hegemonic way. Brinda Rao's analysis of the Indian identification
of women with water demonstrates this process at work, and the brutal
impact it can have on women's daily lives.
4
Interestingly, Jim O'Connor
writes in the same issue of CNS, but about capitalism rather than
patriarchy, that "the essence of ideology is a reified naturalism."
5
He
3
Lori Ann Thrupp, "The Struggle for Nature: Replies," Capitalism, Nature, Socialism,
3,
November, 1989.
4
Brinda Rao, "Struggling for Production Conditions and Producing Conditions of
Emancipation," CNS 2, Summer, 1989.
5
James O'Connor, "Socialism and Ecology," CNS 2, Summer 1989, p.5.
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recognizes a paradoxical dilemma for eco-socialists in how to handle
this ideology, while yet theorizing the re-inclusion of "nature" within
political economy. Eco-feminists likewise are engaged in a subtle
deconstruction of the patriarchal "Mother Nature" ideology while yet
trying to re-theorize our human embeddedness in what is called "nature."
As O'Connor has also pointed out, movements must battle against yet
within hegemonic conditions. This can be like walking a tight-rope, but
it is not an impossible task for those who have learned to think
reflexively.
No feminist believes that "biology is destiny." At the same time
though, people who are sexed female, and denigrated because of that,
may decide to affirm their "difference" as a source of empowerment: viz.
the body-based rituals of some eco-feminist groups. Such practices,
while in themselves creative, help deconstruct patriarchal ideologies of
"the feminine." Equally important is the work of other eco-feminists who
examine the social, political and economic consequences of biological
sex. This is not as many fear, to "essentialize" femininity, but to come to
terms with the material conditions of women's lived experience. Women
who bear children in the ghettos of Brazil know well that this is an
economic event. Politicians cannot thrust "the biological" aside. That is
precisely what has brought Western capitalist patriarchy to its present
ecological impasse calling up the need for an eco-socialist theory.
It is a fundamental premise of eco-feminism that in patriarchal
cultures, men's assumed right to exploit nature parallels the use/s they
make of women. Yet some activist men have great difficulty accepting
this.
They may endorse the substantial contribution of women
environmental activists and agree that a future sustainable society should
eliminate women's oppression; but will not go as far as to concede that
there is a distinct and separate body of theory called eco-feminism. The
argument may be simply that eco-feminism is part of Social Ecology
with its assumption that social domination and the domination of nature
are interrelated. While most eco-feminists will agree with that
proposition, women theorists have found many ways of arriving at it
anarcho-communism is one; socialist feminism is another; and radical
culturalist concepts of "difference" offer yet another route to the same
conclusion. Further, many women activists, mothers and grandmothers,
sass out the connection with no help from theory at all.
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The word "eco-feminism" originated in Paris around 1974 as far as
we can tell; but during the 1970s the idea erupted spontaneously in other
"centers" too Sicily, Japan, Venezuela, Australia, Finland, the U.S.
Women don't need a pre-packaged social philosophy in order to see that
their labor and sexuality are "resourced" by men in ways that match the
instrumental exploitation of "nature." The appropriation of Rachel
Carson's path-breaking work by today's ecologists is a case in point.
The setting up of the EPA was a direct response to her research. Yet
while Pinchot, Muir, Berry, and Commoner are acknowledged as
"fathers" of the movement, her contribution invariably slips into
invisibility. Dan Faber's and Jim O'Connor's overview history of
environmentalism in the U.S. does little to remedy this.
6
It also discounts
the motive force of women in environmental campaigns. As political
"workers," they constitute well over half the active membership of most
organizations; many are housewives, even lone supporting mothers, all
unpaid, as Kathy Hall chronicles for us in CNS? Moreover, this
observation is equally true for the Soviet Union, if a delegation of
Russian journalists visiting Chicago in 1989 is to be believed. But the
authors of CNS's environmental history judge the "the salariat" to be the
back-bone of the movement in the U.S. and "scientists" in the USSR.
True,
professionals, usually men, do assume spokesperson and key
lobbyist positions; but this is to judge a political phenomenon by mere
appearance, ignoring the movement substrate. The interesting question
though, is: why have women come forward in this way just at this point
in history?
When they discuss eco-feminism, Faber and O'Connor's article
takes the opposite tack to those who would have it disappear by
absorption into Social Ecology. Their tendency is to bracket eco-
feminism in with Social Ecology's arch rival Deep Ecology! Hence,
"Neo-Romantic ideologies are also influenced by, and fused into, new
eco-feminist ideas and values."
8
The emergence of eco-feminism as an
autonomous political force is lost. Worse: only one eco-feminist source
is referenced; and even then, it is not an American contribution.
Somewhat ironically, it also turns out to have been a "critique" of Deep
6
Daniel Faber and James O'Connor, "The Struggle for Nature," CNS 2, Summer, 1989.
7
Kathy Hall, "Coming to see the Forest as well as the Trees," CNS 2, Summer, 1989.
8
Faber and O'Connor, op cit., p.32.
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Ecologists. An essay that, along with a handful of other Left based
commentaries, has provoked over 60 pages of outrage from the Deep
Ecology camp.
9
No, eco-feminism is not subsumable by Deep Ecology,
even though it does share the Deep Ecological project of dismantling the
ideological artifice which divides
"humanity"
from "nature". This is a
task that eco-socialism itself is about to embark on, for ecological crisis
has brought home the urgency of understanding just what the
connections between "humanity" and "nature" are. Yet there is a further
curiosity about Faber's and O'Connor's eco-feminist citation. The
referenced article written while its author was an editor of a socialist
journal is classified as neo-romanticism and therefore, politically
regressive. This, despite the fact that the piece extends the critical
Marxist debate with positivism and instrumental rationality to the tacit
scientism and managerialism of some Deep Ecological writing; or, that
the article talks about the centrality of women's labour in some half
dozen places. Is everyday silence over women's economic activities
equally prevalent in textual exegesis?
Duly admonished by Lori Ann Thrupp in the journal's next issue,
Faber and O'Connor go on to compound this "brevity of treatment" with
an assertion that radical eco-feminism is romanticism in three senses.
10
First, they say it is anti-science and technology. This does scant justice
to the sophisticated epistemological critiques articulated by women
scholars. Nor does it acknowledge the pioneering work of Third World
women activists in the field of appropriate technology. Second, radical
eco-feminism is seen by them to privilege "body" over mind the old
question of biologism again. Hopefully, readers are persuaded by now
that what is actually going on in eco-feminism is a deconstruction of
patriarchal notions of the body, while yet exploring alternative
conceptualizations. It is a dialectical process. An analogy with eco-
socialism might be the latter's need to undermine bourgeois-liberal
notions of "scarcity," while yet designing new economic practices for
sustainable living in a resource-finite world.
But there is a deeper aspect to Faber's and O'Connor's objection
to eco-feminist preoccupation with the body, and that is their adoption of
9
Ariel Salleh, "Deeper than Deep Ecology: the Eco-feminist Connection," Environmen-
tal Ethics, 6, 1984.
10
Daniel Faber and James O'Connor, "Rejoinders," CNS 3, November 1989, p. 177.
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the patriarchal dualism which splits "body" and "mind" as if they were
two entities. Differently valued entities, with mind the "masculine"
sphere, privileged over body, inert, impure, "feminine." Here the authors
speak their continuity with the Judaeo-Christian, Baconian-Cartesian,
Marxian-Saitrian tradition. Each discourse has been driven by a common
"masculine" will to disconnect from and transcend our earthly condition:
what Marx called necessity. Yet it is this same episteme that has
dissociated economics from ecology a hegemony that eco-socialists
must now learn to argue their way out of. Lastly, the authors ascribe
romanticism to radical eco-feminism because of its association with
"organic theories emphasising emotional ties to the community (caring)."
Now the rationalist thrust to transcend bodily embeddedness in place and
in relationships, again shows through. It promotes a model society that
would abstract, quantify and commodify not only human experience but
also nature. Critical Marxists see this impulse guided by domination and
control. In any event, its epistemological basis rests in a reified
naturalism ideology par excellence and one that Faber and
O'Connor surely would not want to support.
Turning back to the issue of "caring" however despised, this is
nevertheless the kind of unpaid service/labor that women under capitalist
patriarchy are required to put in. While society denigrates the worth of
such work, social reproduction would not occur without it We are
looking at another kind of activity that could be identified as economic,
and as such, interest eco-socialist theorists. Alternatively, in a future
post-patriarchal scenario, men may engage in caring labor themselves.
Unless, of course, new forces of production/technologies can be found to
take it over. In the meantime, while eco-socialists look forward to a
coherent formulation of "the concrete totality," they might attend the
work of eco-feminists with scholarly care. Many women spent the best
part of the 1970s and 1980s trying to get brother socialists to re-think the
gender blind categories of Marxism, to zero effect It would be a shame
if dialogue between eco-feminists and eco-socialists in the 1990s was
simply a repeat of that old history. Ariel Salleh
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One of the themes of CNS is dialogue between eco-Marxism and
eco-feminism. An exchange between Lori Ann Thrupp and Jim
O'Connor and Daniel Faber initiates this, and also has proximate
relevance to the way in which CNS "works." Lori Ann Thrupp has been
very gentle, and the response by O'Connor and Faber does not really
come to terms with the questions raised. To explain:
I do not think it is helpful to assert, as do O'Connor and Faber, that
"Radical eco-feminism is neo-romantic..." Consider, for example, that it
would equally be valid to say that some assertions of eco-feminism are
radically materialist, and as such are a lot closer to being a "scientific"
aspiration (in the sense of enquiry into what is) than has been much of
soi-disant physical and social science. One might tax many variants of
pseudo-historical Marxism over the decades, as hopelessly imbued with
teleology and idealism. Now where does this sort of declamation get us?
Not very far.
There certainly are some critical issues to be addressed around the
eco-feminist connection. But a demarcation simply in terms of
"privileging body ('human biology') over mind" or the reverse barely
commences to open the enquiry. A very essential preliminary step is,
perhaps, to ask how the body is socially constructed. This is
simultaneously a philosophical question about "human nature" and a
practical action-in-the-world question. Traditional Western discourses
on both political left and right are united in seeing the human individual
as an end relative to instrumental action on the rest of nature. How this
"individual" has been constructed varies. Broadly speaking he (sic) is a
"subject," usually male (i.e., the male is the norm). The "biological"
entity (the body) is represented as in the service of the essential subject
(e.g., soul, or a "mind," or more latterly a level of utility). In the
metaphysics of nature and the body, Marx is only a permutation of a way
of thinking already given definitive expression by John Locke (I
caricature for simplicity). The versions of human biology that
predominate in current science are perfectly complicit in this plot The
line of meaning is always of the natural/physical subsumed to/under
1
CNS 3, November, 1989, pp. 177-78.
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human end, or, in Aristotelian terms, the material (female) to the form or
spirit (male). Nature is theorized, as the French say, a sens unique, i.e., a
one-way street.
Now, some radical feminisms including some of those who name
themselves eco-feminist, have sought to deconstruct and subvert this sort
of monologue discourse on nature and human nature (usually naming it
phallocratic, and the term is apposite). The efforts at deconstruction (and,
ipso facto, at reconstruction) have had mixed successes. But it is
undeniable that feminist analyses have in many respects led the way.
Two themes that quite often emerge are those of a reciprocity of
transformation (similar to what I "extract" from a deconstructive reading
of open systems thermodynamics; elsetimes expressible in the languages
of gift-exchange socialities; and so on); and of polysemy: the
contradictory and unfinished character of speech-and-action in the world.
These both have a lot to do with the famous site-specificity. Without
labouring the point one could remark that women, being sensitized
through the inescapable materiality of pregnancy and childbirth, find it
(a) hard to avoid noticing their material being in place and time, and (b)
hard to pretend that human subjects alone are the "active" principle in the
life process. They know (in the etymological sense of gnosis, knowledge
embodied in oneself) that life is an intimate and reciprocal affair.
Whereas we men seem, historically, to have found it quite easy to faire V
economie de economise on, make abstractions away from; bracket out
any such recognitions of an obligatory reciprocity as the existential
condition of being in the world.
Even where an existential obligation is admitted one must eat,
one must shit the male subject has found it reassuring to suppose that
we (humans, read: man) are in any case the rule and measure of it. The
Lockean ideal of society, for example, which is the same as found in
Mill, as in Hayek, as in neoclassical orthodoxy, is premised on two
modalities of voluntaristic action: (a) unilateral appropriation from
nature; and (b) consensual transactions between men in the marketplace.
Women on average have found this loud postulation about being always
(or, at least/most, ideallyl) in charge of things, in control of the
exchanges, rather daft. To say this is not biological determinism: notice
it is man who is saying it; but women have said such things rather more
often, without necessarily being listened to. Notice, conversely, that
some feminists (but this is not typically eco-feminist) embrace the
Western individualistic "ethic" or for that matter traditional Marxist
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instrumentalist discourse insofar as "post-modem" technology and
ideology gives them the image of functional control over their own
bodies.
The response to Lori Ann Thrupp has a tone of condescension in
it. This was perhaps not intended. Yet all the emphasis is on O'Connor
and Faber as the knowing subjects and as the competent judges as to
what's what and who's who. The acceptance of chastisement actually
reads a preamble to simple reassertion of expertise. Power, says Jean
Baudrillard, resides in the monopoly of the spoken word. The meaning
of site-specificity which some ecofeminists intuit and some don't is
to dislocate and subvert discursive monologue, and to institute not an
alternative discourse of power but an incessant reciprocity. Dialogue
means to listen to the other, and the corollary is be changed in the
encounter. It does not mean to co-opt the other within one's own
discourse. To give a loaded example, the famous relation of a mother to
the fertilized egg. Who is co-opting whom??? Unidirectional co-option
is often only imagined anyway. One could draw a parallel here with
Marx's real and formal subsumption: just because one asserts that X is
subsumed within logic of accumulation does not make it actually so.
Ditto,
the fact that certain of us (myself included) have the structural
privilege that allows us to play the role of knowing subjects (our voices
have weight and standing in society), does not mean that our particular
"wisdom" amounts to a superior compass. We speak along with, and to,
any other. If CNS seeks to be a genuine forum for debate, the dialogue
has to be real. Martin O'Connor
Reply
We think that part of the problem of characterizing eco-feminist
practise and thought is that both seem to be different in different regions
or countries. Some women (and men) in some places might be engaged
in practical work that Ariel Salleh and Martin O'Connor might describe
as "eco-feminist" practise, without the parties directly involved so
describing their activity. Contrarily, perhaps both Salleh and O'Connor
2
Jean Baudrillard, The Mirror of Production (Telos Press Ltd.: New York, 1975).
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... As noted, epistemological transversalization is a kind of negotiation over how to conceptualize problems, root causes, solutions, and strategies. A classical exemplar is offered by a debate between ecofeminists and eco-socialists that was played out in the activist-academic journal Capitalism Nature Socialism (Salleh, 2005; Salleh & O'Connor, 1991). In the course of this exchange, a specific attempt was made to reconcile the socialist focus on the mode of production with a feminist emphasis on relations of reproduction. ...
... The framework for this debate was self-consciously reflexive and transformative: as Salleh put it, 'dialogue means to listen to the other and the corollary is being changed in the encounter. It does not mean to co-opt the other within one's own discourse' (Salleh & O'Connor, 1991, p. 137). Central to this integrative eco-politics is the analysis of the nature– woman – labor nexus; ecofeminists question the transcendent vision of eco-socialists, and ask them to consider the immanent reality of how humans are materially embedded in natural cycles and embodied by the labor of maintaining these cycles. ...
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Preface World history has always been full of catastrophic social and political events. From the industrial revolution to the First World War and the more recent Arab Spring, these events will be remembered as cornerstones of modern world history. Although the twenty-first century has not witnessed a world war, we have experienced new challenges, including ethnic conflicts and global warming. To meet these and other new challenges, humanity must learn new concepts and develop new approaches. The last 50 years have witnessed a scientific revolution and critical accumulation of knowledge that have triggered a more multi-disciplinary approach towards research in order to address these new challenges. Often this multi-disciplinary approach is given the label of Chaos Theory, a term that first gained popularity in the disciplines of Mathematics and Physics. In fact, this could perhaps better be seen as a new term to define a very old concept. Our daily lives can be seen as being directly linked with the events in sociology, political science and the natural sciences. What was at first branded as a primarily numerical concept has in recent years been shown to part of the fabric of our social reality. Today, we recognize that our lives are affected on a daily basis by unexpected human behaviour. In such a world, there are always alternative ways to understand the social and political dynamics of our history. This book attempts to frame chaos and its application within different subcategories of world politics. The reader will gain insights from Arab Spring to gender issues through the eyes of chaos theory. It is my hope that this book will inspire researchers, both present and future, to work in the dynamic field of chaos and politics. I wish to thank the editors who invited me to write the preface for a book on our unique field of “chaos.” Ankara ¸Suay Nilhan Açıkalın November-2013
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CNS has published strong contributions on technology over the years. Path breaking, was Michael Goldman's research into the gendered politics of water in rural India, wherein new management methods and pricing became a bonanza for local men. Too many Marxists are comfortable ecological modernizers and tech-neutral believers, convinced that once capital is overturned, advanced industrial economies will become humane and environmentally benign. The juxtaposition of capitalist patriarchal economics with security is an oxymoron. But it becomes even more absurd when the military is made integral to it. Everybody knows that the use of Agent Orange, depleted uranium, or biological weapons has destructive outcomes for human and environmental well-being. Less often discussed is electromagnetic weaponry and its capacity to directly manipulate ecosystemic processes for defense purposes. The attribution of 'causality' remains to be established. It is also a matter of speculation as to whether electromagnetic research affects global warming or the increasingly chaotic character of weather patterns.
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