Vandana Shiva (*1952) is an Indian philosopher of science, physicist and an environmental activist. She is most known for her advocacy of biodiversity and her impact on the ecofeminist movement. At the centre of Shiva’s work is a critique of the current form of globalisation, which attempts to homogenise society as well as the environment in detrimental and neo-colonial ways. In her book ‘Monocultures of the Mind’, Shiva criticises the blindness of globalisation to local knowledge, but also points out that ‘the dominant system is also a local system’ that has a ‘social basis in a particular culture, class and gender’, thus constituting colonialism (1993: 9). In particular, she argues against the current economic valuation, which disregards the on-going capacities of a society and environment for life support (1993: 14), regards nature and women as ‘passive’ raw material and disempowers an increasing section of global society. Shiva particularly attacks rationalities and processes that promote de-commoning, debt culture and the myth of advanced consumption as the best possible development. As part of her activist work, she has funded, co-funded and participated in several movements and NGOs such as Navdanya, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and the Chipko Movement. As part of these, she has led campaigns against patenting, biopiracy and seed monopolies (such as during India’s ‘Green Revolution’), logging and women’s inequality.
Because of her advocacy of biodiversity and local knowledge, her ‘unscientific’ language (‘Mother Nature’, ‘web of life’) and her attack of current forms of ‘development’, Shiva has frequently been accused of being reactionary. This has also been the case for her views on women and feminism, where mostly first world feminists have objected to her ‘essentialising’ views of nature, gender and her linking of women and ecology. In turn, Shiva criticises Western feminists, and especially ecofeminists of lacking politics, or at least a politics which includes the concerns of non-Western women. Again, what Shiva argues is that environmental degradation also leads to societal degradation, and especially to worsening conditions for women.
“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” (Mies and Shiva, 1993).
She sometimes calls her version of ‘ecofeminism’ ‘subsistence feminism’. This type of feminism attempts to further partnership, cooperation and a strong relation between “basic needs” (food, clothing, shelter) and “higher needs” (freedom and knowledge) (see Brinker on Shiva, 2009). In contrast to first world ecofeminism, or first world feminism and environmentalism in general, it does not take basic needs as given.
Although Vandana Shiva’s work seems to have gone out of fashion, perhaps because of the multitude of attempts to deconstruct nature-culture boundaries and the focus on ‘nonhuman agency’, her analyses of the relationships between natural and societal degradation remain disconcertingly pertinent.
Shiva, Vandana (1993) Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology. London: Zed Books.
Mies, Maria and Vandana Shiva. Ecofeminism. Halifax: Fernwood Publications. 1993.
Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. London: Zed Books. 1989.
Brinker, Rachel (2009) Vandana Shiva and Feminist Theory.
Democracy Now! (2003) An Hour with Vandana Shiva. 27 November.
Shiva, Vandana (2015) The Vandana Shiva Reader. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.
Why and how does Vandana Shiva link environmental and women’s exploitation?
Why does Vandana Shiva seek to distinguish her feminism from ‘first world’ types of feminism?
Discuss the clashes between ‘first world’ and ‘third world’ feminists, also with regard to current events, such as the media controversy around FEMEN.
How does the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ relate to Vandana Shiva’s critique?
How does Vandana Shiva’s ecofeminism relate to other attempts to unsettle Western nature-culture divisions such as posthumanism or actor-network-theory?
Submitted by Angela Last