Liz Conor launches Feminist Ecologies edited by Lara Stevens, Peta Tait and Denise Varney

Lara Stevens, Peta Tait and Denise Varney, eds, Feminist Ecologies: Changing Environments in the Anthropocene. Cham,  Switzerland: Springer Nature (Palgrave Macmillan), 2018.

 

Liz Conor

 

This revelatory collection, Feminist Ecologies, brings together the incendiary and dynamic Leadership of Australian ecofeminists to an increasingly urgent field of analysis. This is not my field, I have no authority in it yet I appear (and am thrilled to) within its pages – along with the women I worked with on the Climate Guardian Angels.

There’s a dissonance to how I come to launch this book that I want to reflect on, because having the opportunity to engage with this deeply tendentious theoretical advocacy, goes some way to holding in tension, bringing into synthesis, the dialectic[1] of our academic and activist lives – competing and harried as they are. Because I’m struck that I never see colleagues at a blockade nor comrades at a conference. They can sometimes feel like worlds apart. Yet we’re all standing at these sites of intervention on our tippy toes, sharing a hankering for revolution, which we all know is now inevitable from sharing the same critical traditions. Revolution is already unavoidable since decoupling the economy from carbon is so fundamental a shift in the relations of production.[2] What this collection illuminates, is how as Marx said, ‘The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.’[3] These are long since contended ideas beset with gendered dualisms, yet they are worth revisiting at this juncture, particularly the notion of Praxis. Reviving Praxis is perhaps the foremost imperative of this collection.

We bear witness in the pages of this book to ecofeminism as a shining example of Praxis.[4] Australian women scholars in the 1970s and 80s established an unparalleled leadership in the nascent international field of environmental humanities because of our particularly ‘glocal’ scenario of colonial dispossession and resource extraction. Drawing on notions of Aboriginal guardianship, it was a theory oriented toward change, combining critical thinking with action through what Alison Bartlett dubs an ‘epistecology’.[5] In their daily lives they occupied sites of protest that themselves involved ‘bodies of thought as well as thinking bodies’ (156).

They enacted praxis as a theory of action, enabling participatory democracy. For those of us who stand in their wake we are now past welcoming change, past seeking change, past petitioning for change – we are ready now to force change.

We need a course of action such as this collection strategically expands. One that is situated, ‘ecologically embodied’, (109) and materialist. One that critiques capitalist patriarchy by recognising, unlike Marx, the productivity of reproduction, of caring labours, housework, and in Maryse Helbert’s example, that women’s unpaid labour props up the mining industry (233) itself a ‘social infrastructure’ that is hostile to women while ‘privileg[ing] men’s economic advancement’ (243).

We need a praxis that understands that Indigenous sovereignties underpin any claim made over any place. That there isn’t any right to territory that isn’t entwined with the responsibility to care for it (198). That in land claims women landowners, as Deborah Bird Rose explains, are marginalised because of the ‘androcentric heritage of anthropology’ (85). So any alliances forged, for example, with the Wangan and Jagalingou in their fight against Adani,[6] need to work with rather than against differences within that native title group and recognise the ‘value of Indigenous management of cultured countries’ (197) such as the renewal ceremonies Ambelin Kwaymullina describes (195).

We need a praxis that avoids the dualisms and hyperseparation of human and non-human by falling into the traps of anthropomorphism, and androcentrism. One that eschews the ‘biologistic reduction of woman to womb’ that Kate Rigby describes – this ‘ensnared categorization of “woman” with “nature”‘ – while still being attentive to our embodied identities (175). It is the common history of oppression women, particularly first nation, share with nature through being identified with it, that has provided a basis for an ecofeminist praxis.

We need a praxis that shares Germaine Greer’s impulse toward relational thinking, as Lara Stevens describes it, that ‘conceive[s] of women’s oppression as a network or system of multiple and interlocking dominations’ (121). This will draw on a ‘ecofeminist literacy’ in its critique of toxic masculinity. It is a praxis that rethinks, as Anne Elvey writes ‘the maleness of the divine’ and the ways bible interpretative traditions have been toxic to the earth (211). It is one that works instead towards new understandings of kinship and indivisibility,[7] through forging connections between environmental and social justice. A praxis that sees nature as ‘a moral order’ as Freya Matthews writes, that entails ‘both individuality and holism’ within relational systems [8] and one to which Peta Tait attributes, ‘diverse sentience’ (177).

Ecofeminists are, as Ariel Salleh says, ‘both street fighters and philosophers’ (7). They celebrate the history of women activists, such as those described by Emma Shortis, in the remarkable campaign for a mining ban in Antarctica (253). They are refusing to be sidelined, as women, in glocal issues of energy security (246).

I’m a convert to the praxis of ecofeminists, writ large in this formidable collection. By way of sublating the dialectic of academia and activism, of finding ways to productively hold these in suspended tension, I commend this rabble-rousing collection to anyone silently weathering reef grief, reef rage and all the dystopian dread of the climocalypse. This is a collection that will doubtless become required reading on every blockade. See you there.


Notes

This is a revised version of Liz Conor’s launch speech for Feminist Ecologies, 2 May 2018, University of Melbourne.

[1] Dialectic: ‘preserving the useful portion of an idea, thing, society, etc., while moving beyond its limitations.’

[2] ‘When a given style of production relations no longer supports further progress in the productive forces, either further progress is strangled, or “revolution” must occur.’ As Marx described it, ‘the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production’.

[3] Historical materialism: ‘Society moves from stage to stage when the dominant class is displaced by a new emerging class, by overthrowing the “political shell” that enforces the old relations of production no longer corresponding to the new productive forces. This takes place in the superstructure of society, the political arena in the form of revolution, whereby the underclass “liberates” the productive forces with new relations of production, and social relations, corresponding to it’ – namely renewables.

[4] Praxis: ‘the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized’.

[5] Epistecology: ‘foregrounds the environment in which knowledge is produced’, Feminist Ecologies, 158.

[6] ‘”Each of us applicants got a letter from the coordinator-general saying because we weren’t willing to engage with certain people they were preparing to start proceedings to extinguish native title against all Wangan Jagalingou Country,” he said. “The seven of us decided it’s all about having our native title recognised so we went back to Adani and said we’re willing to negotiate ILUA [Indigenous Land Use Agreement] with you.”‘ http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-11/traditional-owners-fear-losing-native-title-rights-adani-mine/9246474

[7] Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.Karl Marx, Grundrisse, 1858 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_materialism#cite_note-FOOTNOTEMarx1993265-12)

[8] ‘[W]hat is coming into being is, at the same time, also returning to nothing (in life, for example, one’s living is also a dying), both Being and Nothing are united as Becoming’ Hegel.


 

Liz Conor is an ARC Future Fellow at La Trobe University. She is the author of Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women (UWAP, 2016) and The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s (Indiana University Press, 2004). She is a columnist at New Matilda, and has published widely in academic and mainstream press on gender, race and representation. Liz is a community activist, founding campaigns on Native Title (Stick with Wik), Maternity Leave (The Mothers of Intervention), Climate Justice (Climate Guardian Angels) and Feminism (The John Howard Ladies’ Auxiliary Fanclub). She is working on a new theatre protest group, The Coalettes.

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