Feminism and Ecological Futures

Theme 4

Feminism and Ecological Futures, 11:00am-4.30pm, Friday 3 Dec 2010, Hepple Room, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

Speakers include: Farhana Sultana (Syracuse), Deborah Dixon (Aberystwyth), Sarah Whatmore (Oxford) and Niamh Moore, (Manchester)

This seminar asks how global-scale ecological processes and events calls new conceptualisations of risk, uncertainty, and anticipation into being. How do alternative historical and geographical frameworks contribute to developing more critical approaches to contemporary environmental crises such as climate change, natural resource depletion, and the relationship between the human and the non-human world?

Audio file of Farhana Sultana's talk

Audio file of Deborah Dixon's talk

Audio file of Niamh Moore's talk

*Disclaimer: author’s permission needs to be sought before citing the material


Negotiating Rights, Experiencing Development, Managing Water: Gender-Water-Development Nexus in a Changing World

Farhana Sultana, Syracuse University

Notions of gender rights in the development process, as well as of rights to water, are invoked in most of the Global South, in an era of globalization that envisions women’s rights and water rights to be interlinked and oftentimes parallel. However, these notions intersect in complicated and contradictory ways to constitute the messy processes of development. This talk seeks to contribute to the debates in gender–water and gender–development scholarship by investigating the ways that gendered subjectivities are simultaneously (re)produced by societal, spatial and ecological factors, as well as by materialities of the body and heterogeneous waterscapes. The problematic ways that rights to water and gendered rights to development are simultaneously understood, negotiated, and experienced are highlighted. Drawing from research on drinking water politics in South Asia, the talk engages the ways that gender relations are influenced by not just direct resource use/control/access and the implications of different types of waters, but also by the ideological constructs of masculinity/femininity, which can work in iterative ways to influence how people relate to different kinds of water, to their understanding of rights, and to lived realities of development practices. Multiple social and ecological factors interact in complex and interlinked ways to recast socio-ecological relations, whereby socio-spatial subjectivities are re/produced in water management, that end up reinforcing existing inequities and producing new opportunities. The talk highlights that imaginaries of development, rights, or citizenship are not just complicated by social intersectionalities and histories, but also imbricated in ecological change and spatial relations vis-à-vis water, where simultaneously socialized, ecologized, spatialized and embodied subjectivities are produced and negotiated in everyday practices. In the context of climate change that is leading to exacerbation, production, and alterations of socio-ecological crises across sites and scales, critical investigations of such issues can assist in further elucidating gender-water-development nexus in a changing world.


Unruly Ecologies: Aesthetics, Ambiguity and Adaptation

Deborah Dixon, Aberystwyth University

The loss of biodiversity, as part of a broader ecological crisis, has engaged the attention of numerous artists, poets, writers, theatre directors and dance choreographers, working with, rather than from or alongside, scientists in an equally diverse number of fields. Despite a modern-day, institutional compartmentalization that seeks to distance the arts, as a subcomponent of the humanities, from the natural sciences, there is a shared recognition of the need to conceptualize and work through the disciplinary and political repercussions of this same compartmentalization.

Here, I want to extend my recent work on the ‘place’ of a critical BioArt that dwells on and queries the manner in which a technoscientific Biology creates what have been termed ‘Semi-Living Objects’. I do so by focusing upon the ecology research project Adaptation, initiated by the art/science collective SymbioticA, which is comprised of a series of works ranging from poems and memoirs to the creation of a slow-growing sculpture, all located on the shores of Lake Clifton in Western Australia. Though the fate of an unique colony of Thrombolites provides a shared concern, the works also scope colonisation, indigenous cultures, urban development, scientific discovery and practice, and risk and fragility in the face of climate change. In the process, they deploy overt manifesto, but also ambiguity and irony, as a means of politicizing their work; that is, they  speak to the possibilities such collaborations afford for envisioning, communicating and responding to ecological crisis.

For me, the politics of such 'wet'-ware -- that is, the aesthetic re-making of affective and inter-subjective communities -- resonates with a feminist account of an unruly, even 'monstrous,' nature, wherein, as Sue Ruddick (2009) puts it, "the ecological crisis becomes at the same time an ontological crisis."


Affective environments: thinking through flooding

Sarah Whatmore, University of Oxford

The paper explores Isabelle Stengers' cosmopolitical philosophy through a collaborative research experiment in the politics and science of flood risk management.


Eco/feminism and re-visioning the ending of feminism (and the planet): sustaining a more-than-human world 

Niamh Moore, University of Manchester

In the early 1990s, as accounts of the end of feminism proliferated, I encountered a vibrant eco/feminist politics and activism in a place called Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Canada. In 1993 activists set up a peace camp based on eco/feminist principles to support blockading of a logging road into an extensive area of temperate rainforest which was slated for clear-cut logging. Over the course of the summer over 900 people were arrested in one of Canada’s largest collective acts of non-violent civil disobedience. This was followed by the ‘Clayoquot Mass Trials’, where all defendants were found guilty of criminal contempt of court and many served jail sentences. The success of the camp was frequently attributed to the manifestation of eco/feminism. Yet the paradox for me was encountering this vibrant eco/feminism at a time when the end of feminism was widely being declared. I have puzzled over this apparent disjuncture ever since.

I have increasingly wondered what is this ‘end of feminism’, what does it do, and what does its repetition do, as it seems to me that it was never real in a literal sense, not least as I suggest that ‘the end of feminism’ never happened, that the end of feminism has been an apparent ‘failure’, though perhaps a productive failure, so I suggest some alternative ways of understanding this feminist refrain, and what it does.

While the popularity of feminist utopian fiction, experiments in womyn’s land, campaigns such as Greenham Common (and many others) all point to the 1970s and 1980s as a time when feminism might have been a resource for thinking through ecological crisis, the emergence of accounts of the end of feminism were significantly bound up with reading such feminist engagements with ‘nature’ as essentialist, and hence implicitly and often explicitly as not properly feminist, disavowing such feminist interventions. Thus the ongoing sense of crisis about feminism since the early 1990s appears to have put paid to the possibilities of turning to earlier feminisms as a resource for a critical engagement with a sense of ecological crisis. So in the face of feminism’s apparent difficulty in imagining its own future, it might appear counterintuitive to turn to feminism as a means for thinking through ecological crisis in 2010.

Yet some feminists are now imagining a feminist present or futures, through a ‘new’ material feminism. Intriguingly the emergence of this material feminism, which takes up the question of nature, or perhaps naturecultures, or the posthuman, or the more-than-human, appears to proceed without the taint of essentialism. While not dismissing the potential of these approaches, I want to pay attention to what might be hidden or lost in the segue from intense critiques of eco/feminism to material feminism.

Thus I suggest that turning to this instance of eco/feminist activism, to the friction between eco/feminism and feminism, and to the narration of (nature in) the recent feminist past, offers a potent resource for re-visioning the possibilities of sustaining a more-than-human world.