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by Maria Mies

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This groundbreaking work remains as relevant today as when it was when first published. Two of Zed's best-known authors argue that ecological destruction and industrial catastrophes constitute a direct threat to everyday life, the maintenance of which has been made the particular responsibility of women. In both industrialized societies and the developing


This groundbreaking work remains as relevant today as when it was when first published. Two of Zed's best-known authors argue that ecological destruction and industrial catastrophes constitute a direct threat to everyday life, the maintenance of which has been made the particular responsibility of women. In both industrialized societies and the developing countries, the new wars the world is experiencing, violent ethnic chauvinisms and the malfunctioning of the economy also pose urgent questions for ecofeminists. Is there a relationship between patriarchal oppression and the destruction of nature in the name of profit and progress? How can women counter the violence inherent in these processes? Should they look to a link between the women's movement and other social movements?

Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva offer a thought-provoking analysis of these and many other issues from a unique North-South perspective. They critique prevailing economic theories, conventional concepts of women's emancipation, the myth of 'catching up' development, the philosophical foundations of modern science and technology, and the omission of ethics when discussing so many questions, including advances in reproductive technology and biotechnology. 

In constructing their own ecofeminist epistemology and methodology, these two internationally respected feminist environmental activists look to the potential of movements advocating consumer liberation and subsistence production, sustainability and regeneration, and they argue for an acceptance of limits and reciprocity and a rejection of exploitation, the endless commoditization of needs, and violence.

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Zed Books
Publication date:
Critique. Influence. Change. Series
Edition description:
Second Edition,New Edition,New Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

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By Maria Mies, Vandana Shiva

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2014 Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78032-979-6


Introduction: Why We Wrote this Book Together

Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva

A jointly-authored book usually suggests that the writers have long been involved in an on-going dialogue arising out of common reading and discussions. When the two of us began thinking about writing this book we had to face the fact that no such collaboration was possible. We live and work thousands of miles apart: one in the so-called South — India; the other in the North — Germany: divided yet also united by the world market system, that affords privileges to peoples in the North at the expense of those in the South, and, too, by history, language and culture. Our training and background also differ: Vandana a theoretical physicist, from the ecology movement; Maria, a social scientist, from the feminist movement. One had looked at the capitalist world system from the perspective of the exploited people and nature of the South, the other had studied the same processes as they affect women from the viewpoint of someone who lives 'in the heart of the beast'. Could all these differences be overcome by good-will and effort? Moreover, was it appropriate at the present juncture even to try to write a book together, when all around people seem to be engaged in trying to discover their own particular identity, vis-a-vis sexual, ethnic, national, racial, cultural and religious difference as the basis for autonomy? Would we be accused of trying to create a new internationalism, under the banner of feminism and ecologism, when the old isms, particularly socialist internationalism, were collapsing? And too, in the South many women's movements see feminism as a Western/Northern import and accuse white (European and North American) feminists of sharing in men's privileges in their countries. Perhaps it was wiser to accept these differences, instead of trying to contain them within such a universalistic term as 'ecofeminism' — and instead, each of us should concentrate on our own work within our own countries and their cultural, ethnic, political and economic contexts and try to effect changes locally.

Nevertheless, these differences aside, we share common concerns that emerge from an invisible global politics in which women worldwide are enmeshed in their everyday life; and a convergence of thinking arising from our participation in the efforts of women to keep alive the processes that sustain us. These shared thoughts and concerns aim not to demonstrate uniformity and homogeneity but rather a creative transcendence of our differences. There are many reasons for our collaboration in this book. One is to make visible the 'other' global processes that are becoming increasingly invisible as a new world order emerges based on the control of people and resources worldwide for the sake of capital accumulation. Another is the optimistic belief that a search for identity and difference will become more significant as a platform for resistance against the dominant global forces of capitàlist patriarchy, which simultaneously homogenizes and fragments.

This capitalist-patriarchal perspective interprets difference as hierarchical and uniformity as a prerequisite for equality. Our aim is to go beyond this narrow perspective and to express our diversity and, in different ways, address the inherent inequalities in world structures which permit the North to dominate the South, men to dominate women, and the frenetic plunder of ever more resources for ever more unequally distributed economic gain to dominate nature.

Probably we arrived at these common concerns because our experiences and insights, and the analyses we have formulated, grew out of participation in the women's and ecology movements rather than from within the cocoon of academic research institutions. In recent years we had increasingly been confronted by the same fundamental issues concerning survival and the preservation of life on this planet, not only of women, children and humanity in general, but also of the vast diversity of fauna and flora. In analysing the causes which have led to the destructive tendencies that threaten life on earth we became aware — quite independently — of what we call the capitalist patriarchal world system.

This system emerged, is built upon and maintains itself through the colonization of women, of 'foreign' peoples and their lands; and of nature, which it is gradually destroying. As feminists actively seeking women's liberation from male domination, we could not, however, ignore the fact that 'modernization' and 'development' processes and 'progress' were responsible for the degradation of the natural world. We saw that the impact on women of ecological disasters and deterioration was harder than on men, and also, that everywhere, women were the first to protest against environmental destruction. As activists in the ecology movements, it became clear to us that science and technology were not gender neutral; and in common with many other women, we began to see that the relationship of exploitative dominance between man and nature, (shaped by reductionist modern science since the 16th century) and the exploitative and oppressive relationship between men and women that prevails in most patriarchal societies, even modern industrial ones, were closely connected.

We discovered that our own active involvement in the women's and the ecology movements had coincidentally led us to a shared analysis and perspective. The search for answers had led us to similar theories, to similar authors for clarification and eventually to one another. Re-reading papers we had presented on various occasions and to different audiences revealed a spontaneous convergence of thought arising out of objective conditions to which we had each responded as women.

If the final outcome of the present world system is a general threat to life on planet earth, then it is crucial to resuscitate and nurture the impulse and determination to survive, inherent in all living things. A closer examination of the numerous local struggles against ecological destruction and deterioration, for example: against atomic power plants in Germany, against chalk mining and logging in the Himalayas; the activities of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya; and of Japanese women against food pollution by chemically-stimulated, commercial agriculture and for self-reliant producer-consumer networks; poor women's efforts in Ecuador to save the mangrove forests as breeding-grounds for fish and shrimp; the battle of thousands of women in the South for better water management, soil conservation, land use, and maintenance of their survival base (forests, fuel, fodder) against the industrial interests, confirmed that many women, worldwide, felt the same anger and anxiety, and the same sense of responsibility to preserve the bases of life, and to end its destruction. Irrespective of different racial, ethnic, cultural or class backgrounds, this common concern brought women together to forge links in solidarity with other women, people and even nations. In these processes of action and reflection similar analyses, concepts and visions also sometimes emerged.

In South-West Germany, peasant women in the Whyl Movement were the most active in one of the first anti-nuclear power movements in that country. They established cross-border links with similar movements in Switzerland and France as well as with other movements in Germany, to intellectuals, students and to city- dwelling feminists. In this process they became conscious of the patriarchal men- women relationship; for many women this was the first step towards their own liberation. When, some years later, two of the movement's leading women were interviewed they clearly articulated their vision of an alternative society, based not on the model of growth-oriented industrialism and consumerism but close to what we call the subsistence perspective. Other examples of women's endeavours to overcome social fragmentation and create solidarity are Lois Gibbs' opposition to the dumping of toxic waste and Medha Patkar's to the construction of the Narmada dams. Women activists in the USA have led the campaign against toxic waste dumping, and Lois Gibbs' strenuous and persistent efforts in opposing toxic waste dumping in the now notorious Love Canal outrage are well-known. As Murray Levine wrote, 'If Love Canal has taught Lois Gibbs — and the rest of us — anything, it is that ordinary people become very smart, very quickly when their lives are threatened. They become adept at detecting absurdity, even when it is concealed in bureaucratic and scientific jargon.'

In the 1980s toxic dumps began to be sited in areas inhabited by poor and coloured people; today, the strongest resistance against this practice is to be found in these areas. For women fighting against toxic dumping, the issue is not just NIMBY (not in my backyard) but 'everyone's backyard' (the title of a newsletter on citizen's action). Joan Sharp, who worked at the Schlage Lock Company in North Carolina USA until the factory was closed to be set up as a maquiladora in Tecate, Mexico, exemplifies this solidarity. In March 1992, then unemployed, she went to Mexico as a representative of Black Workers for Justice in order to give the Mexican workers information on the Company and hazardous chemicals which she and others believe caused 30 of her co-workers to die of cancer. The 200 pages of documents she had brought described Schlage's use of toxic chemicals, its contamination of the groundwater, and its failure to provide promised severance pay for production workers. None of the Tecate workers had been aware that Schlage had closed operations in San Francisco in order to take advantage of low wages in the Black Belt South, and then in Mexico. In Narmada Valley, Medha Patkar is leading India's most vital environmental campaign against the construction of mega dams on the Narmada river. As she said in an interview: The concept of womanhood, of mata, [mother] has automatically got connected with this whole movement, although the concept of Narmada as mata is very much part of [it]. So if the feminine tone is given, both to the leadership and the participants — then [it all] comes together'. These examples show how the shared concern of countless women worldwide override their differences, and evokes a sense of solidarity that perceives such differences as enriching their experiences and struggles rather than as marking boundaries.

Why is it so difficult to see this common ground?

Some women, however, particularly urban, middle-class women, find it difficult to perceive commonality both between their own liberation and the liberation of nature, and between themselves and 'different' women in the world. This is because capitalist patriarchy or 'modern' civilization is based on a cosmology and anthropology that structurally dichotomizes reality, and hierarchically opposes the two parts to each other: the one always considered superior, always thriving, and progressing at the expense of the other. Thus, nature is subordinated to man; woman to man; consumption to production; and the local to the global, and so on. Feminists have long criticized this dichotomy, particularly the structural division of man and nature, which is seen as analogous to that of man and woman. Rather than attempting to overcome this hierarchical dichotomy many women have simply up-ended it, and thus women are seen as superior to men, nature to culture, and so on. But the basic structure of the world-view remains as also does the basically antagonistic relationship that, at the surface, exists between the two divided and hierarchically ordered parts. Because this world-view sees the 'other', the 'object', not just as different, but as the 'enemy'; as Sartre put it in Huis Clos: Hell is other people! In the resultant struggle one part will eventually survive by subordinating, and appropriating the 'other'. This is also the core of Hegelian and Marxian dialectics, of their concept of history and progress. Evolutionary theory too, is based on the concept of a constant struggle for survival, on an antagonistic principle of life. These concepts are integral to what, since the Enlightenment, constitutes the European project of so-called modernity or progress.

Since Hobbes' writings, society has been conceptualized as an assembly of social atoms, activated by antagonistic interests. Modern economic theory sees self-interest as the impulse of all economic activity. Later, Darwin 'discovered' a similar principle in nature. Accordingly, the symbioses, the interconnections that nurture and sustain life are ignored, and both natural evolution and social dynamics are perceived as impelled by a constant struggle of the stronger against the weaker, by constant warfare. Such a world-view militates against an appreciation of the enriching potential of the diversity of life and cultures, which instead are experienced as divisive and threatening. Attempts to rejoin the atomized parts lead only to standardization and to homogenization by eliminating diversity and qualitative differences.

An ecofeminist perspective propounds the need for a new cosmology and a new anthropology which recognizes that life in nature (which includes human beings) is maintained by means of co-operation, and mutual care and love. Only in this way can we be enabled to respect and preserve the diversity of all life forms, including their cultural expressions, as true sources of our well-being and happiness. To this end ecofeminists use metaphors like 'reweaving the world', 'healing the wounds', and re-connecting and interconnecting the 'web'. This effort to create a holistic, all-life embracing cosmology and anthropology, must necessarily imply a concept of freedom different from that used since the Enlightenment.

Freedom versus emancipation

This involves rejecting the notion that Man's freedom and happiness depend on an ongoing process of emancipation from nature, on independence from, and dominance over natural processes by the power of reason and rationality. Socialist utopias were also informed by a concept of freedom that saw man's destiny in his historic march from the 'realm of necessity' (the realm of nature), to the 'realm of freedom' — the 'real' human realm — which entailed transforming nature and natural forces into what was called a 'second nature', or culture. According to scientific socialism, the limits of both nature and society are dialectically transcended in this process.

Most feminists also shared this concept of freedom and emancipation, until the beginning of the ecology movement. But the more people began to reflect upon and question why the application of modern science and technology, which has been celebrated as humanity's great liberators, had succeeded only in procuring increasing ecological degradation, the more acutely aware they became of the contradiction between the enlightenment logic of emancipation and the eco-logic of preserving and nurturing natural cycles of regeneration. In 1987, at the congress 'Women and Ecology' in Cologne (Germany), Angelika Birk and Irene Stoehr spelt out this contradiction, particularly as it applied to the women's movement which, like many other movements inspired by the Enlightenment ideas, had fastened its hopes on the progress of science and technology, particularly in the area of reproduction, but also of house- and other work. Irene Stoehr pointed out that this concept of emancipation necessarily implied dominance over nature, including human, female nature; and, that ultimately, this dominance relationship was responsible for the ecological destruction we now face. How, then, could women hope to reach both their own and nature's 'emancipation' by way of the same logic?

To 'catch-up' with the men in their society, as many women still see as the main goal of the feminist movement, particularly those who promote a policy of equalization, implies a demand for a greater, or equal share of what, in the existing paradigm, men take from nature. This, indeed, has to a large extent happened in Western society: modern chemistry, household technology, and pharmacy were proclaimed as women's saviours, because they would 'emancipate' them from household drudgery. Today we realize that much environmental pollution and destruction is causally linked to modern household technology. Therefore, can the concept of emancipation be compatible with a concept of preserving the earth as our life base?

This contradiction will be further explored in the following chapters, particularly those dealing with biotechnology. But our critique of the Enlightenment emancipation-logic was impelled not only by an insight into its consequences for women, but also a concern for those victims, who, since the White Man's march towards 'the realm of freedom' had paid for this freedom by the denial of their own subjectivity, freedom and, often, their survival base. As well as women, these include nature and other peoples — the colonized and 'naturized' — 'opened up' for free exploitation and subordination, transformed into the 'others', the 'objects', in the process of European (male) 'subject's' emancipation from the 'realm of necessity'.


Excerpted from Ecofeminism by Maria Mies, Vandana Shiva. Copyright © 2014 Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Vandana Shiva was one of India's leading physicists and is now a leading environmental campaigner, the winner of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize and the author of several books, including Soil not Oil (2008), Earth Democracy (2005) and Stolen Harvest (2001).

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