Unnatural relations

Ariel Salleh writes: 'What ecofeminism demands is a fully amplified critique of capital's degradation of the "conditions of production", based on a recognition of the nature-women-labor nexus as a fundamental contradiction.'19 We may note, first, that such a nexus is not the only contradiction. But central to the ecofeminist case I am drawing on here is the insistence that attention must be paid to the interrelation between social relations of production and material relations of production. That is, ecofeminism seeks to hold together the intimate relations between human production and human reproduction. As 'women's work', the latter has tended to be rendered invisible in main/malestream ecological thought. Attention is focused on actions in the formal economy with attention paid to processes of extraction and exchange. Of course, attention to the interactions between ecology and production is vital. But the relation between production and reproduction - the capacity of humanbeings to renew themselves both biologically and socially - remains crucially important. In short, true engagement with the theme ofsustainability must

17. Mellor, Feminism andEcology, p. 57. Incidentally, I think that Mellor is incorrect (see ibid., p. 45) in making a connection between theological ecofeminisms and spiritual ecofeminisms. She notes that some ecofeminist theologians owe more to socialist traditions than to the traditions of spirituality. But that judgment is rooted in a lack of awareness of the rather different roots of Christian and spiritual feminism.

18. In coming to this judgment, I have been strongly influenced by Val Plumwood's critique of'cosmic anthropocentrism'. As will have been evident from my comments on deep ecology in the previous chapter, I detect in some ecotheories precisely an account of anthropocentric cosmology. See Val Plumwood, 'Androcentrism and Anthropocentrism: Parallels and Politics', in Karen J. Warren (ed.), Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), pp. 327-55. I should add that I am not here making any comment on the charge of 'essentialism' which has been levelled at cultural ecofeminism. My question to cultural ecofeminism is not concerned with its alleged attempt to construct women's identity in too ideal a fashion but instead with its confidence in women's experience as the point of epistemic access to true, oppositional, knowledge under capitalism and the devaluing of political agency which follows, in my view, from such a position.

19. Ariel Salleh, 'Nature, Women, Labor, Capital: Living the Deepest Contradiction', in Martin O'Connor (ed.), Is Capitalism Sustainable? Political Economy and the Politics of Ecology (New York and London: Guilford Press, 1994), pp. 106-24 (p. 117).

be extended to cover this area. Too often the excessive use of resources is the focus of inquiries in sustainable development. Yet, in truth, if there is no concern forbiological reproduction and adequate social reproduction -the decline of fertility through hazards in the environment, for example, or systemic failures in processes of socialisation on account of the collapse of education systems in urban areas - then what sustainability comprises has been arbitrarily restricted.20

Social/ist ecofeminism is thereby concerned to affirm the embodiment of women and women's embeddedness in nature, but in liberatory rather than restrictive ways. For human dependence on embodiment and embeddedness cannot be overcome. Yet the ways in which, as Mellor puts it, 'The needs of human embodiment are shared by all humanity but are disproportionately borne in the bodies and lives ofwomen', requires corrective action.21 We are referred back to Warren's 'logic of domination'. Human reproduction is not a 'problem'. Instead, the ways in which reproductive labour is regarded as inferior and of little account in ways similar to the objectification, manipulation and abuse of non-human nature needs to be resisted. Nor is the growth in population to be understood as the cause of poverty which in turn - in an instrumentalist, coercive programme - justifies and requires interventions such as sterilisations.22 It is the association ofwomen with nature - the basic claim ofecofeminism together with the denigration ofnature and the domination ofnature on account ofthis association - which is at issue here. Or, as Salleh puts it: 'By proposing that the nature-women-labour nexus be treated as a fundamental contradiction of capitalist patriarchal relations, ecofeminism affirms the primacy of our exploitative gender-based division of labour, and simultaneously shifts the economic analysis towards an ecological problematic.'23

Ecofeminism is thereby dedicated to overcoming the destructive capitalist and patriarchal ontology which 'divides History from Nature'.24 How does ecofeminism do this.? By tackling the relationship between socially constructed relationships and the physical realities ofembedded-ness and embodiment, especially the latter.25 This is the crucial point: the tension between social production and embeddedness and embodiment, between production and reproduction is the vital theme ofecofeminism.

20. See Merchant, Radical Ecology, pp. 8-14. 21. Mellor, Feminism andEcology,p. 183.

22. Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminism (London and New Jersey: Zed Books, 1993), pp. 277-96.

23. Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics, pp. 90-1. 24. Ibid., p. 133.

25. See Mellor, Feminism andEcology, p. 7.

In chapter 2, I noted that the re-relating of humanity and nature could not be achieved except by reference to the concept of God. We are now in a position to note that the un/natural relations of the common realm need to be understood in the perspective of sex/gender; the common realm is asite of gendered conflict. So un/natural identities in the common realm are reproductive: embeddedness in nature and human embodiment are thereby identified as central themes. Whether or not human beings are natural (embedded) or transcendent of nature is not the issue. Rather, a social materialism cannot lose sight of the issue of reproduction: the insight of ecofeminism identifies and counters the mechanics of the domination of women as this relates to the domination/manipulation/control ofnature.

That is, in that women are the bridge between men and nature, nature is consistently devalued along with women's labour as the mediator of that nature. Paradoxically, the directness of relations between women and nature may provide a useful indicator of how human-nature relations are to be understood. Not least, un/natural relations are always reproductive: the long-term survivability of the human race turns upon the capacities of human beings to reproduce, biologically and socially. Ecofeminism searches for ways to show how human beings are both natural yet social, reproductive and productive, dependent on physical realities yet transformative ofhuman habitat. This will be a recurrent theme in part III.

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