Ecofeminist thought in North America and Australia has engaged in an extensive critique of deep ecology.26 Reprising some themes in that debate provides a useful starting point for grasping the account of totality operative in some ecofeminist theory. Although criticisms of deep ecology are directed towards its politics and strategy, some ecofeminist misgivings focus on the ontology maintained or required by deep ecology. For example,
26. Here I am drawing on the following: Plumwood, 'The Ecopolitics Debate and the Politics of Nature', pp. 64-87; Plumwood, 'Nature, Self, and Gender', pp. 155-64; Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, ch. 7; Jim Cheney, 'Eco-feminism and Deep Ecology', EnvironmentalEthics 9:2 (1987), 115-45; Jim Cheney, 'The Neo-Stoicism of Radical Environmentalism', EnvironmentalEthics 11 (1989), 293-325; Jim Cheney, 'Nature, Theory, Difference', pp. 158-78; Ariel Salleh, 'Deeper than Deep Ecology: The Eco-feminist Connection', EnvironmentalEthics 6 (1984), 339-45; Ariel Salleh, 'The Ecofeminism/Deep Ecology Debate: A Reply to Patriarchal Reason', EnvironmentalEthics 14:3 (1992), 195-216. For a more extensive bibliography, see Ariel Salleh, 'In Defense of Deep Ecology', in Eric Katz, Andrew Light and David Rothenberg (eds.), Beneath the Surface (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2000), p. 122.
ecofeminists question whether deep ecology's ontology can in fact articulate notions of difference, especially as these relate to the difference of otherness. Despite the reference to relationality, there is a strong concern that the account of identification required by deep ecology overcomes the dualism of nature opposed to humanity by lapsing into an undifferentiated monism (Plumwood, Cheney). How is such fusion also the affirmation of relations? Deep ecology opposes the domestication of nature but then seems to lapse into the elimination of nature. With this monism comes an affirmation of the expansive self, as we saw in the last chapter. But how, some ecofeminists ask, does such an account overcome the stress on the autonomy of the individual and the centrality of the ethics of nature construed as rights that deep ecology proclaims that it wishes to overcome (Cheney)? Moreover, how can the discussion of the relations between humanity and nature proceed when the generic term, 'humanity', goes unexamined and its patriarchal assumptions remain buried (Salleh)?
If the totality posited by deep ecology is that of an ever-expanding self, co-creative with the cosmos, what notion of totality is operative within social/ist ecofeminism? Nature-humanity is here understood to be a broken totality: contrary to much current practice, 'the human metabolism with nature can be based on a logic of reciprocity and nurture rather than exploitation or control. This dialectical logic is contained in the sensuous practice of women workers.'27 Thus women's work - agricultural, procre-ative, socialising - is concerned with reproduction and the relation of reproductive to productive (as in agriculture) work. The roots of social/ist ecofeminism are to be found in the historically constituted 'women's objective relation to social reproduction'. Further: 'The shared materiality of this structural position persists globally despite differences of region, class, religion and language.'28 Thus the work of women provides access to a totality fractured by practices of domination and subjugation in which both women and nature are conceived as externalities to production.
Yet in and through these processes of domination and subjugation may be discerned the reality and otherness of nature. So ecofeminists often affirm the agency, but not the subjectivity, of nature. In turn, ecofeminists are dismissive of postmodern attempts to affirm strongly the cultural construction and discursivity of nature. Plumwood considers this position as merely the determined opposite of the affirmation of nature as a unified
2 7. Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics, p. 82. Cf. Salleh's claim, following Carolyn Merchant, that the interpretation of nature as dialectical fits with a 'sociology of conflict and change', p. 57.
28. Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics, p. 109.
structure. Both positions are to be rejected.29 Although there is some debate as to the relations between ecological-scientific descriptions of nature and those proposed by ecofeminism,30 on account of actual practices - especially the procreative and the agricultural - ecofeminism maintains that women have a particular material relation to nature. However, here I reject the claim - a rejection maintained by some ecofeminists of course - that women are 'closer' to nature. In short, a number of ecofeminist writers are sensitive to the charge of essentialism which works out as an epistemology of direct, seemingly unmediated, experience of nature on account ofsome reified notion ofwomen's embodiment on which the claim to being 'closer to nature' depends.
Consider the following comment by Karen Warren: 'Because there are no "monolithic experiences" that all women share, feminism must be a "solidarity movement" based on shared beliefs and interests rather than a "unity in sameness" movement based on shared experiences and shared victimization.'31 In fact, I think that the 'standpoint epistemology' promoted by a number of ecofeminists is preferable even to Warren's account: what is vital here is the social location of women as point of epistemic access to true, that is liberative, knowledge of nature. To be preferred, then, is an understanding of the standpoint of women as a set of overlapping positions which have something in common. Nancy Hartsock provides a good example of such overlapping: the centrality of women's work in the care of children is almost universal (has a place in every culture) yet is varied in cultural practice.32
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