[WSMDiscuss] Ideas in movement…, Ecofeminisms in movement… : Ecofeminist Sociology as a New Class Analysis (Ariel Salleh)

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Wed Mar 20 01:35:01 CET 2019

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Ideas in movement…, Ecofeminisms in movement…

[Here, and in relation to recent posts such as the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) Ecosocialists’ Statement on the Green New Deal, is a forthcoming essay by ecofeminist Ariel Salleh, summarising and putting forward ideas she is working on, and with warm greetings and thanks to her / you, Ariel, for the permission to go ahead and post this :    

Ariel Salleh, April 2019 - ‘Ecofeminist Sociology as a New Class Analysis’, in Global Dialogue, vol 9 no 1, April 2019, pp 35-37    :

Sociology as a New Class Analysis
by  Ariel Salleh, University of Sydney, Australia and member of ISA Research Committees
on Environment and Society (RC24) and Social Movements, Collective Action and Social
Change (RC48)
E cological feminist analyses grow out of everyday
life praxis, so they often question the taken-for-granted
premises of social movements framed
top-down by established political ideologies. For
example, during the 1980s and 1990s, ecofeminists contested
a lack of sex-gender awareness in the philosophy of
“deep ecology.” It was not that the environmental aims of
the program were rejected by ecofeminists; rather, as they
argued, the planetary crisis had its origins in the rapidly
globalizing system of capitalist patriarchal institutions and
values. For this reason, crisis solutions must change “the
culture of masculinist entitlement” supporting that system.
This controversy, known as the “ecofeminism/deep
ecology debate” ran for over a decade in the US journal
Environmental Ethics. In a similar consciousness-raising
exercise, ecological feminist theorists have engaged critically
with Marxist scholarship. In the past decade, articles
in Capitalism Nature Socialism, the Journal of World-Systems
Research, and elsewhere, have broadened the public
understanding of ecofeminism as a critical sociology. My
position is that the contemporary global conjuncture calls
for a new sociological class analysis. So what follows is a
brief outline of the historical trajectory and claims of what
I label “an embodied materialism.”

 > An embodied materialism
Reproductive labor is the foundation of every society.
In the hands-on experience of such labor, mothers learn
how to sustain biological cycles in the bodies they care
for. Likewise, peasants and gatherers attune to and regenerate
cycles in the land. These non-monetized workers
are largely invisible in the global economy, not adequately
acknowledged in sociology, nor theorized in Marxism. But
it can be argued that together these three labor groupings
− mothers, peasants, and gatherers − form a class
whose time has come, by reason of their material skills in
enabling life-on-Earth.

The word ecological feminism is used widely to describe
a politics that treats ecology and feminism as one struggle.
It emerges when the conditions of life in urban neighborhoods
and rural communities are at risk. Women or men
can be involved in life-affirming labors, but since it is mainly
women around the world who are socially-positioned as
caregivers and food growers, it is usually the women of a
community who take environmental action first. Interventions
of this sort are universal, regardless of region, class,
or ethnicity; that is to say, they are uniquely intersectional.
On every continent from the 1970s on, women responding
to the collateral damage of post-World War II capitalist
consumerism and development models started doing what
they called “ecofeminism.” Whether opposing toxic pollutants,
deforestation, nuclear power, or agroindustry, their
politics always connected “local” and “global.” German
ecofeminists like Maria Mies even built their work quite
explicitly on Rosa Luxemburg’s socialist contribution.

 The 1980s also saw the rapid rise of ”new social movements”
−  anti-nukes, Black Power, Women’s Lib, Indigenous
land rights −  and Marxists were right to be skeptical.
Radical ecology would be coopted by Green parties
and technocratic professionals. Feminism was deflected by
liberal individualism, and turned into a single-issue negotiation
with the state for equal rights. The next phase of
ecofeminism followed the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit,
which intensified the Global North’s neocolonial policies
in the name of protecting nature. Now a worldwide master
plan of regional agreements opened the way for corporate
mining of Indigenous soils and corporate patenting of Indigenous
medicinal plants. Ecofeminists like Vandana Shiva
and others were present at the Rio Earth Summit, and did
what they could to oppose the measures. Soon, as recorded
by Peruvian sociologist Ana Isla, the UN Framework Convention
on Climate Change would force further concessions
from the powerless. The twentieth century closed with the
Battle for Seattle, where an international grassroots insurgency
faced down the World Trade Organization. This broad
movement of movements for a people’s alternative to globalization
held its first World Social Forum in 2001.

> Globalization : decolonization
 The expansion of neoliberal free trade demoralized the
proletariat in metropolitan states by sending their jobs offshore
to low-wage export processing zones in the Global
South. But many folk in the geopolitical periphery had a
positive agenda − a decolonizing one. In Brazil, a vibrant
Landless People’s Movement was talking about eco-villages
and food sovereignty. In Ecuador, the women of Acción
Ecológica invented the concept of “ecological debt” to describe
the 500 year-long colonial theft of natural resources;
the modern theft constituted by World Bank interest on
development loans; and the ongoing degradation of livelihoods
resulting from economic extractivism. Justice with
sustainability was also featured at the 2010 Cochabamba
People’s Climate Summit, which presented Andean ways
of provisioning as an alternative to the wasting of life under
manufactured affl uence. The equation of industrialization
with progress was under interrogation.

Following the 2008 financial meltdown, globally aware
youth started the Occupy movement, setting up camp near
the Wall Street stock exchange to rail against the capitalist
class ; in Germany, they blockaded the Frankfurt banks. Another
politics based on life-affirming “reproductive values”
surfaced in Mediterranean states resisting European Union
austerity programs. Spain’s indignados  initiated a variety
of self-suffi cient neighborhood economies. At Rio+20 in
2012, business groups, politicians, and the UN Environment
Program stepped up their Green New Deal proposition
−  a PR exercise for the nanotech bio-economy; and
again, ecofeminists challenged them. Later, academics
would gather in Leipzig and Budapest to discuss degrowth,
although the post-development vision of ecofeminist subsistence
thinkers like Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen was
not yet recognized. Today, the Rosa–Luxemburg-Stiftung
is examining the convergence of ecofeminism and other
community-oriented politics like buen vivir from South
America, ubuntu from South Africa, and swaraj  from India.

Ecofeminists have an extensive literature, often taught
in universities, and one that notes how under capitalist
patriarchal culture, the enclosure and commodifi cation
of nature echoes the enclosure and commodifi cation of
women’s laboring bodies. Traditional allusions to Mother
Nature are far more than a metaphor. As Greta Gaard
points out, a compassionate ethic of veganism now circulates
among ecofeminist networks and regular international
meetings on Minding Animals are held. Women across
Africa whose livelihood is threatened by mining near their
villages have set up WoMin, a continental anti-extractivist
network with its own ecofeminist manifesto on climate
change. Appalachian mothers in the USA organize direct
action against mountaintop removal by the coal industry.
India’s Navdanya School for eco-suffi ciency “banks” traditional
seeds to save them from pharmaceutical patenting.
In Sichuan, China, peasant women restore soil fertility by
reviving centuries-old organic techniques. And in London,
housewives volunteer their time to repair the River Thames
catchment from centuries of abuse.

> Anthropocentrism : ecocentrism
 When activists or, say ISA RC48 sociologists, don’t see
how the logic of reproduction interconnects ecology, workers’,
women’s, and Indigenous movements, a destructive
single-issue “identity politics” happens, where the rights of
one group are pitted against another. This restricted sociological
imagination is an expression of the anthropocentric
Western dualism of “humanity” versus “nature,” a traditional
“common sense” that is re-enacted with the socialization
of every new generation.

Unfortunately, the wheels of globalization are still
greased by Aristotle’s “Great Chain of Being” hierarchy, an
ancient discursive rationale placing gods, kings, and men
at the apex of social life, having power over underlings like
women, natives, and nature. The old Aristotelian mantra
has structured the direction of history such that over the
centuries, women and conquered slaves would become
mere objects. Eurocentric institutions, from religion and
law, to economics and science, were designed to serve
that “masculinist entitlement” − the ongoing international
default position for liberals and socialists alike. As ecofeminist
historian of science Carolyn Merchant observes, Enlightenment
reason conceptualized bodies and nature as
machines with parts to be controlled by mathematical formulae.

This life-alienated culture is indispensable to the
functioning of capitalism and it is maintained in sociology
by some ISA RC24 ecological modernists who believe that
technological innovation can save the environment. However,
the automated future will not readily “dematerialize”
into either sustainability or justice. So too, gestures like
the circular economy or the transvaluation of care labor by
feminist economists are reabsorbed by the logic of capital.
In a time of ecological crisis, people need to be able to
think inside an eco-centric framework. When this presents
teachers of sociology with a challenge, radical students
as often as not move across to political ecology or even
human geography. But modernist professionals can learn
much from the eco-centrism of Indigenous epistemologies
and analyses based on women’s experiences of organic
caregiving labor.

The discourse of “humanity” versus “nature” has prevented
the Left, and particularly postmodern feminists,
from taking this marginalized reproductive labor force seriously
as political actors. The usual Left charge is that
ecofeminists attribute women’s political insights to an inborn
“feminine essence” − which is plain nonsense. The
source of ecofeminist perceptions is neither biological embodiment,
nor economic structures, nor cultural mores,
though all these things infl uence human action. Rather, an
ecofeminist epistemology is grounded in labor: in the making
and re-making of understandings and skills through interaction
with the living material world. People who work
autonomously, outside of numbing industrial routines −
caregivers, farmers, gatherers − are in touch with all their
sensory capacities and able to construct more accurately
resonant models of how one thing relates to another.

> Regenerative labor
The time frame of this eco-centric labor class is intergenerational,
and thus intrinsically precautionary. Scale is intimate,
maximizing worker responsiveness to matter-energy
transfers in nature or in human-bodies-as-nature. Judgment
is based on an expertise built up by trial and error,
using a cradle-to-grave assessment of ecosystem or bodily
health. The diverse needs of species or age groups are
balanced and reconciled. Where domestic and livelihood
economies practice synergistic problem-solving, multi-criteria
decision-making is a matter of common sense. When
there is no division between mental and manual skills,
then responsibility is transparent; the labor product is not
alienated from the worker as under capitalism, but enjoyed
in sharing with others. Here the linear logic of production
gives way to a circular logic of reproduction. In fact, social
provisioning in this way is simultaneously vernacular science
and direct political action.

Ecological feminism argues for a synergistic politics,
fostering livelihoods, skilled jobs, solidarity, cultural autonomy,
sex-gender awareness, learning, empowerment,
and spiritual renewal. A current exemplar can be found
in Ecuador among the mothers and grandmothers of the
development-ravaged hills of Nabon. With foresight and
creativity, these self-governing women have achieved erosion
control, water harvesting, soil fertility, and food sovereignty
by planting to restore old water catchments and
streams. In this, they have also done their bit for the global
climate crisis. So too, the international peasant union Via
Campesina insists, “our small-scale provisioning cools
down the Earth.”

Reproductive work creates relational “ways of knowing”
that counter the mechanistic violence of Western instrumental
reason. Unless radical politics is guided by care
labor, it will readily slip back into the kind of Enlightenment
that treats the Earth and its peoples as an endless resource
for the growth economy. Whereas the linear reason
of modern industry cuts through the metabolism of nature,
leaving disorder and entropy behind, meta-industrials
who nurture living processes develop tacit epistemologies
expressing an alternative form of human creativity. Such
labor, freely appropriated by capital from both its domestic
and geographic peripheries, is in fact the prerequisite of
capitalism’s mode of production. That is to say, this unique
class of workers exists “inside of capitalism” when its activity
subsidizes surplus value; yet reproductive provisioning
also exists “outside of capitalism,” suffi cient to itself.
My term “meta” implies a fundamental frame, which holds
subsidiary activities in place.

Eco-sufficient economies do not externalize costs by exploiting
the bodies of others, nor do they externalize waste
as “pollution.” That regenerative labor skill is indispensable
to a sustainable global future and the remarkable fact is
that it is already practiced by the worldwide majority of
workers. This recognition accords great strategic power to
the meta-industrial class as a historical actor in the international
political arena. The classical socialist preoccupation
with exploitive “relations of production” − critically
important as it has been − sidelined concern over oppressive
“relations of reproduction.” That said, there are
passages in Marx’s writing which might well have described
the “‘meta-industrial labor class,” had his humanist focus
been less narrowly patriarchal and Eurocentric.

Direct all correspondence to Ariel Salleh <ariel.salleh at sydney.edu.au>


Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

Current associations : www.cacim.net <http://www.cacim.net/> / http://www.openword.net.in

CURRENT / RECENT publications :

Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?, Indian edition. New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press.  Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2016a  – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ? and Jai Sen, ed, 2016b – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance (both then forthcoming from New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press), open access ADVANCE PREFINAL ONLINE MOVEMENT EDITIONS @ www.cacim.net <http://www.cacim.net/>
SUBSCRIBE TO World Social Movement Discuss, an open, unmoderated, and self-organising forum on social and political movement at any level (local, national, regional, and global).  To subscribe, simply send an empty email to wsm-discuss-subscribe at lists.openspaceforum.net <mailto:wsm-discuss-subscribe at lists.openspaceforum.net>
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.openspaceforum.net/pipermail/wsm-discuss/attachments/20190319/e5ec00bf/attachment.htm>

More information about the WSM-Discuss mailing list