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KAREN WARREN’S

ECOFEMINISM

TRISH GLAZEBROOK

KAREN WARREN’S ECOFEMINISM


Ecofeminism has conceptual beginnings in the French tradition of femi-
nist theory. In 1952, Simone de Beauvoir pointed out that in the logic of
patriarchy, both women and nature appear as other (de Beauvoir 1952,
114). In 1974, Luce Irigaray diagnosed philosophically a phallic logic of
the Same that precludes representation of woman’s alterity, so that it
subjects women to man’s domination (Irigaray 1974). In the same year,
Françoise d’Eaubonne coined the term, “l’eco-féminisme,” to point to the
necessity for women to bring about ecological revolution, and used the
slogan, “Feminism or death [Le féminisme ou la mort]” (d’Eaubonne 1974,
221), to argue that the phallic order is the source of a double threat to
human being: overpopulation, and the depletion of resources. Exploita-
tion of female reproductive power has caused an excess of births, and
hence overpopulation; while an excess of production has exploited natural
resources to the point of their destruction. Though “feminism or death”
was a battle cry, it was also a warning that human being cannot survive
patriarchy’s ecological consequences.
In North America, the alliance between feminism and ecology like-
wise began in 1974, when Sandra Marburg and Lisa Watson hosted a
conference at Berkeley entitled “Women and the Environment.” The fol-

ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT, 7(2) 2002 ISSN: 1085-6633


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ENVIRONMENT,
lowing year, Rosemary Radford Ruether pointed out that “Women must
see that there can be no liberation for them and no solution to ecologi-
cal crisis within a society whose fundamental model of relationships con-
tinues to be one of domination” (Ruether 1975, 204). She called for a
unification of feminist and ecological interests in the vision of a society
transformed from values of possession, conquest, and accumulation to reci-
procity, harmony, and mutual interdependence. In 1991, Karen Warren
edited an issue of Hypatia devoted entirely to ecofeminism, which was
later expanded and republished under the title Ecological Feminist Phi-
losophies. This anthology was ground-breaking, because in it Warren con-
solidated a collection of diverse voices, not into an ecofeminist platform as
such, but into a vision of the lay of the land, as it were, with respect to
ecofeminism.
Although Warren has been writing as an ecofeminist since 1987, it
was not until 2000 that she published a sustained treatment in her own
voice: Ecofeminist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What It Is and
Why It Matters. This book is the culmination of her thinking for over a
decade. Her perspective, very much in the spirit of d’ Eaubonne and Ruether,
is as political, social, and practical as it is philosophical, and constitutes a
research program that extends beyond the walls of the Academy in its
challenge to the social order. The book can be used to answer some of the
criticisms that ecofeminism has received. I will use Warren’s work to ad-
dress in particular the validity of the foundational ecofeminist assumption
that environmental issues are feminist issues; the charge against feminism
in general that it reflects only the needs of white, middle-class, Western
women; the claim, especially in reference to spirituality, that ecofeminism
reinscribes gender essentialism; and the challenge ecofeminism offers to
traditional philosophy, including how such an inclusivist movement can
respond to the history of philosophy without simply reproducing its exclu-
sionary politics.

FEMINISM AND ENVIRONMENTALISM


Ecofeminists insist that feminism and environmentalism are inherently
connected, but it is not always clear what the nature of that connection is.
In general, ecofeminist work applies feminist analyses to environmental
issues, so the claim is not so much that feminist worries are environmen-
tally grounded, as that environmental issues warrant feminist analysis.
Carolyn Merchant’s (1980) analysis of the history of science, for example,

TRISH GLAZEBROOK KAREN WARREN’S ECOFEMINISM 13


uncovers misogyny at the heart of the modern conquest of nature. Yet the
ideology of Man’s (sic) dominion over nature is not new with Bacon, and
is evident in Christian teachings concerning the expulsion from the Gar-
den of Eden at Genesis 3,17–24. Adam is sent from the garden with in-
structions to till the ground and toil for sustenance, that is, he is empowered
by divine fiat to manipulate his environment to meet his own needs. But
the ecofeminist claim that environmental issues are feminist issues should
be stronger than the insight that Western environmentally destructive prac-
tices have always taken place in the context of patriarchy. That may be
true, but women also participate in patriarchy and its oppressive practices.
The cosmetics industry is an excellent example. The testing of cosmet-
ics on animals is a barbaric and cruel, generally unnecessary practice, and
though the issue is complicated by questions of women’s bodily disciplines
and image in the context of patriarchy, women cannot deny their support
of such practices through their buying power. Part of feminist empower-
ment consists in women acknowledging their autonomy and being account-
able for their choices, without simply abnegating responsibility on the basis
of social influence and conformist necessity. Women participate in patri-
archy’s logic of domination, but is it the case that patriarchy is as inher-
ently oppressive of nature as it is of women? Warren answers that it is.
In 1991, she showed, with Jim Cheney, that ecology is a feminist issue
by “identifying theoretical points of intersection between ecofeminism and
ecosystem ecology” (Warren and Cheney 1991, 179–80) in the interest of
furthering discussion and building bridges. The crucial insight she bor-
rows from ecology is “hierarchy theory,” “an inclusive theoretical frame-
work for the variety of ecosystem analyses” (182). Hierarchy theory takes
as its premise that the complexity of natural systems requires multiple ob-
servation sets to figure in analysis. Specific problems can be viewed from a
single set of data, but developing a theory entails considering a broad range
of data generated from a variety of perspectives and at different spatiotem-
poral scales. Hence hierarchy theory is a metatheoretical position that in-
deed is attractive to Warren as it models exactly the kind of inclusivity that
she intends for ecofeminist theory. Yet, in the end, she and Cheney have
established that feminism and ecology are “complementary, mutually re-
inforcing projects” (193); that they have solidarity, rather than necessary
connection.
The ecofeminist claim about the connections between feminism and
environmentalism is stronger, however. By 2000, Warren argues that these

14 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT, 7(2) 2002


connections are “historical (typically causal), conceptual, empirical, so-
cioeconomic, linguistic, symbolic and literary, spiritual and religious, epis-
temological, political, and ethical” (Warren 2000, 21). Yet these connections
may be historically contingent rather than necessary. Environmental and
feminist issues have their basis in the logic of domination that underwrites
patriarchy, so feminists and environmentalists can form an alliance in the
face of a common enemy, as it were, but for the connection between femi-
nism and ecology to be necessary, it would have to be shown that patriar-
chy is inherently naturist.
Deep ecology provides a counterexample, when considered according
to the ecofeminist critique. Ecofeminists have charged deep ecology with
androcentrism and sexism in both theory and practice (Biehl 1987, 2A;
Salleh 1992, 195; 1993, 225; Slicer 1995, 151). Deep ecologists have been
argued to reproduce a patriarchal logic of exclusion, of oppressive theory
over liberating practice. Yet deep ecologists can hardly be charged with
naturism, since their central point concerning the intrinsic value of nature
is intended precisely to combat anthropocentrism. If the ecofeminist charge
that deep ecology is sexist holds true, and sexism is inherently patriarchal,
then it is the case that there is at least once conceptual framework that is
patriarchal but not naturist.
In Ecofeminist Philosophy , Warren’s concern is to suggest that “ad-
equate analysis and resolution of such environmental issues as defores-
tation, water pollution, farming and food production, and toxins and
hazardous waste location must be integrally connected to an understand-
ing of the plight and status of women, people of color, the poor, and chil-
dren . . . [to help] one understand how mainstream environmental practices
and policies often reflect, reinforce, or create practices and policies that
devalue, subvert, or make invisible the actual needs and contributions of
women, people of color, the underclass, and children” (Warren 2000, xiv-
xv). Thus her intention is primarily diagnostic and future-oriented. She
looks to the past and the present in order not to lay blame, but to under-
stand connections toward redemption of all the “-isms of domination,” as
she has been calling them since 1991, (Warren and Cheney 1991, 180); for
example, sexism, racism, ageism, classism, naturism, and so forth. This
approach raises a question about how ecofeminism thus remains femi-
nism, rather than just feminists for popular causes, but Warren is now in a
position to answer both this question, and the question of the connection
between feminism and environmentalism.

TRISH GLAZEBROOK KAREN WARREN’S ECOFEMINISM 15


Since 1987, Warren has been arguing for a “transformative feminism”
(Warren 1987, 17–20) which she characterizes in six points. It expands
feminism by making explicit the interconnections between all forms of
oppression, provides a theoretical space for the diversity of women’s expe-
rience, rejects the logic of domination of the patriarchal conceptual frame-
work, rethinks what it means to be human, recasts traditional ethical
concerns to make a central place for value, and challenges patriarchal bias
in technology research to favor appropriate technologies that preserve rather
than destroy the Earth. This feminism is transformative for feminism it-
self, but is also directed at broad social change. The connection between
all the -isms of domination may be empirically and historically contingent,
but none of the problems generated by patriarchy’s logic of domination
will be solved in isolation. This is Warren’s constructive and practically
useful insight into the necessity for connection of feminism with environ-
mentalism, and it is based on her assessment of empirical data concerning
the impact of environmental damage on women’s lives.

GLOBALISM AND EMPIRICAL DATA


A second challenge to ecofeminism is a contemporary criticism of
mainstream feminism: that it has overlooked issues that concern many
women, and instead privileged the voices and concerns of white, middle-
class, educated, Western women. Warren argued in 1997 that the agricul-
tural uses of trees, global consumption of water, practices of farming and
food production and the technologies they involve, and the production of
environmental toxins are feminist issues because understanding them helps
one understand the status and plight of women cross-culturally. Her data
establishes that trees and forests are inextricably connected to rural and
household economies governed by women, that women are more depen-
dent on forest products than men for food, fuel, fodder, and products for
the home including building materials, household utensils, gardens, dyes,
medicines, and income, that women suffer more than men as a conse-
quence of environmental degradation and destruction of forests, that
women’s lives are affected when it comes to these issues more than men’s
because of customs, taboos, and legal and time restraints that men do not
face, and that the key assumptions in orthodox forestry are male-biased.
Vandana Shiva (1988, 1993) had already argued that Western (mal)-
development programs for emerging nations foster policies that directly
and negatively affect women’s lives and their ability to care for their chil-

16 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT, 7(2) 2002


dren. Deane Curtin argued further in 1999 that developmentalism is a
form of systemic violence against women because it overlooks women’s
critical contribution to food production by marginalizing their labor and
making it invisible. He contrasts traditional practices against “Green Revo-
lution” agriculture. The latter is large-scale, entails a major investment in
machinery and seed genetics from multinationals, and is designed to make
the land adapt to human needs through massive irrigation programs and
monoculture. Women constitute the primary labor force in traditional ag-
riculture, which tends to be smaller in scale and adaptable to local condi-
tions, and to promote diversity. Yet their work is viewed as backward in
the development picture because it is labor-intensive rather than capital-
intensive, and because its strategy is to cooperate with nature rather than
to dominate and control—in short, because it favors what is traditional,
small-scale, and low-tech over what is modern, scientific, rational, and
high-tech. What he finds distinctive about women’s ecological knowledge
is that it is relational, collaborative, situated, temporal, and bodily. Hence
he favors it over the “expertise” of the outsider, who considers the hands-
on wisdom of local women little better than old wives’ tales.
Warren and Curtin agree, then, that male-bias informs the key as-
sumptions in contemporary Western forestry and agricultural practices:
that the outsider knows best; that commercial production is more impor-
tant than what Hilkka Pietila (1985) calls the free economy, that is, the
non-monetary core of the economy consisting in unpaid labor to meet
one’s family’s needs, into which women’s agricultural labor often falls; and
that large-scale production of monoculture is better than small-scale, com-
munity-based forestry using diverse species. What makes these assump-
tions male-biased is that they invest value in the patriarchal institutions of
reason, technoscience, and capital, and devalue women’s sustainable prac-
tices. It is here that the issue becomes awkward: women’s farming is aligned
with sustainability, while corporate or industrial agriculture is identified
as phallic. Is this analysis valid? Warren argues that the empirical data
show that it is.
Irene Diamond (1990) showed that environmental health risks are
borne disproportionately by women. Warren uses empirical data to argue
that this inequality has historical and causal significance, as well as many
other implications. The invisibility of women’s labor and agricultural knowl-
edge is epistemologically significant for policies which affect both women’s
livelihood and ecological sustainability. The overlooking of issues of gen-

TRISH GLAZEBROOK KAREN WARREN’S ECOFEMINISM 17


der, race, class, and age in framing environmental policies and theories is
methodologically significant, and women’s resistance to such policies has
political and practical significance. The data have ethical significance for
theories about women, race, children, and nature, and theoretical signif-
icance for policy, politics, and philosophy. And the language used to con-
ceptualize and describe women and nonhuman nature has symbolic
significance. Yet many of the traditional, sustainable agricultural practices
described by both Warren and Curtin were developed and maintained in
patriarchal societies. Does the data show, then, that patriarchy is inher-
ently unsustainable?
The factors that identify Green Revolution agriculture are characteris-
tic of Western farming practices: technoscientific production of monocul-
ture cash crops. A key distinction between traditional and Green Revolution
agriculture is therefore economic. The latter is for sale and profit, whereas
the former is for local consumption by the family and community of the
grower. Western patriarchal capitalism is exploitative, and patriarchy and
capitalism are difficult to separate conceptually because of their historical
entanglement. But would patriarchal practices necessarily be environmen-
tally exploitative, if they were not embedded in capitalism? If not, then the
globalization of Western agricultural practices is evidence that, though some
ground may have been gained in the West by both feminists and environ-
mentalists, the exploitation characteristic of Western patriarchal capital-
ism runs rampant in developing nations—in short, that what one can no
longer get away with at home quite so easily is still acceptable practice
elsewhere, much as labor resistance led to the relocation of sweatshops in
other, less “developed” nations.
Warren’s analysis is theoretically constructive for a global perspective
because the empirical data she presents culminates in a politics of alterity
that is predicated upon both sameness and difference, that is, connected-
ness. She “presupposes and maintains difference while also recognizing
commonalities” (Warren 2000, 99). Her ethics of inclusivity acknowledge
the Other “at the outset as independent, dissimilar, different,” and resist
“‘unity in sameness’ [which] is an erasure of differences” (105). Her con-
textual moral vegetarianism applies this inclusive approach in order to
respect both meat-eating cultures, and the animals that share in the eco-
logical community (142). Further, she lauds hierarchy theory in ecology
and Leopold’s land ethic because they each have a place for both diversity
and similarity (157, 166), and she advocates a theory of social justice that

18 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT, 7(2) 2002


entails equality, but not sameness (188). Her book concludes with the sug-
gestion of “daring to see our commonalities with ‘the other’ who is so
different from us” (203). The empirical data thus informs for Warren a
post-colonial politics of alterity that is applied to global ecofeminist issues,
and that could be engaged in development policy and practice toward heal-
ing rather than the continuing destruction of habitat, environment, and
indigenous culture.
The empirical data Warren presents establish on-going and pressing
ecofeminist issues that reflect global awareness and cross-cultural con-
science. They indicate a transformative feminism that opens mainstream
feminism to women’s issues more broadly construed, and demonstrate a
need for global economic reform. Summit-hoppers who protest Interna-
tional Monetary Fund and World Bank policies are convinced that resis-
tance to capitalist oppression is a global issue. Warren’s ecofeminism
provides a theoretical and analytical basis for their direct action. Activists
are not slowed down by inadequate theoretical underpinning—lack of a
comprehensive theoretical account has been more a tool for conservative
policy makers to avoid implementing change—but Warren’s work prom-
ises a solidarity with activists, and the possibility of mainstreaming their
goals and rationale over and against the image of the belligerent, activist
radical cultivated in contemporary media. For she shares with activists a
global social vision. She locates its incipience in ecofeminist spiritualities.

SPIRITUALITIES AND ESSENTIALISM


Warren argued in 1993 that ecofeminist spiritualities provide a place
to heal from the wounds patriarchy has inflicted on women and nature. In
2000, she argues further that ecofeminist spiritualities are a tool for sur-
viving and overcoming patriarchy. They have a potential “to intervene in
and creatively change patriarchal (and other) systems of oppression” (War-
ren 2000, 195). Spiritualities involve power, in particular the power to
move from “unhealthy, life-denying systems and relationships to healthy,
life-affirming” (200) ones, and they provide a basis for nonviolent action.
Thus Warren’s support of ecofeminist spiritualities is strategic in its sug-
gestion of recuperative and alternative space. Yet it leaves Warren open to
two complaints: such spiritualities are essentialist; and they are irrational.
The first criticism came originally from Simone de Beauvoir, who saw
in the equation of ecology and feminism a “renewed attempt to pin women
down to their traditional role” (de Beauvoir 1984, 103). Ecofeminist spiri-

TRISH GLAZEBROOK KAREN WARREN’S ECOFEMINISM 19


tualities are grounded in a conception of woman as nurturer and care-
taker, and thus they reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. This charge needs
to be looked at a little more carefully. The ecofeminist claim is not that
women have a privilege on care, while men are inherently aggressive and
destructive. Rather, Warren claims that patriarchy is an oppressive logic of
domination, and that society could be run on the basis of an logic that is
life-affirming rather than destructive. Both men and women can think ac-
cording to such an alternative logic—the fact that it has historically been
associated with femininity, or at least maternal ethics, simply means that
better parenting practices are called for in which the task of nurturing and
caretaking is shared between genders. Ecofeminist spiritualities may be
“often explicitly earth based” (Warren 1993, 130), but this does not rein-
force a harmful identification of woman with nature, so much as serve as a
reminder that the distinction between “human” and “natural” is a false
dichotomy. As such, spiritualities work not to pin women down in the
caretaker role, but rather have the potential to expand that role to include
men, so they do not confine women to the natural, so much as promise a
conceptual framework in which human being leaves behind its longing for
separation from the natural in the false economy of universal reason’s im-
mortality.
Several thinkers have made the second complaint. Janet Biehl, for ex-
ample, calls ecofeminism ”a force for irrationalism” (Biehl 1991, 2–4),
and Baird Callicott calls it anti-theory, anti-science, and anti-reason (Cal-
licott 1993, 335–7). As Warren herself responds in Ecofeminist Philoso-
phy, however, the book stands as a powerful testament to the fact that
ecofeminism is itself a theory. In fact, much of Warren’s work in ecofeminism
has been its laying out and consolidating into a persuasive and coherent
collection of theoretical perspectives. Spiritualities are attractive to War-
ren precisely because they provide a moment in ecofeminist theory that is
an alternative to the phallic, monolithic, exclusionary, and reductive con-
ception of thinking that has driven the history of philosophy in the West.
Spiritualities are a way to show that emotions need not be reduced to the
denigrated side of the reason/emotion dichotomy, but rather, that one can
reflect upon feelings, and feel strongly about reasoned convictions.
Warren makes this point exactly in Ecofeminist Philosophy by intro-
ducing the notion of “emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence is
part of Warren’s care-sensitive ethics, which rely upon having an ability to
care, situated rather than transcendent, ahistorical universals, and judg-

20 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT, 7(2) 2002


ment concerning the appropriateness of appeal to a particular ethical prin-
ciple in any given context. Thus Warren uses an analogy to a fruit bowl to
describe her ethics. Different ethical principles are like fruit in a bowl: “It
is not that one fruit is better than the others in some abstract sense. It is
just that one fruit (or several fruits) may be better than others in the cir-
cumstances” (Warren 2000, 108). Ecofeminist spiritualities provide an
understanding of self and human being that encourage the sense of “dar-
ing to care” (212) requisite for such care-sensitive ethics to get off the
ground. Thus Warren’s claim in 1993 that ecofeminist spiritualities are
useful but not necessary has changed by 2000, when she envisions spiritu-
ality as much more central to the ecofeminist project.
Warren is in some sense, then, an essentialist, but her critics should
not be too quick to charge her with biological essentialism. She calls her
essentialism “strategic . . . there are some material realities that form com-
monalities among women” (Warren 2000, 70, n.13; cf. 91,126). I would
add to this claim the suggestion that such commonalities are political—
what women have in common is that they share social, cultural, and his-
torical space. Even to be cross-culturally global in one’s thinking is to
participate in a political lifeworld that is situated culturally and histori-
cally. This is the sense in which Heidegger intends his notion of essence. In
his analysis, essence is not biologically but rather historically grounded
(Heidegger 1977, 3, n.1). Essences are for him actualities determinative of
historical epochs, and thus of human experience in particular historical
and cultural locations. Thus Heidegger’s essentialism goes beyond Warren’s
strategic usefulness, and at the same time has a cultural and historical
fixity rather than taking its basis from biology, or other ahistorical catego-
ries. Hence his essentialism can give Warren’s more bite by transforming it
from a strategic “as-if” that risks reinscribing harmful gender categories
to the conceptual insight that women’s experience is underwritten by a
politics of location in culture and history. It is on this basis that Warren’s
perspective on ecofeminism offers its deepest challenge to philosophy, a
challenge more radical than Warren herself acknowledges.

THE CHALLENGE TO PHILOSOPHY


Several voices from a variety of disciplines have begun to argue that
Western rationality is too narrowly defined, and to suggest alternative con-
ceptions (Frodeman 2000; Harding 1991, 1998; Heelan, 1989, 1997, 1998;
Naess 1973, 1986; Ravindra 1991; Sheldrake 1988; Tuana 1989). Although

TRISH GLAZEBROOK KAREN WARREN’S ECOFEMINISM 21


these voices come from radically different backgrounds, they share with
Warren an unrelenting critique of objectivity, a sense of the limitations of
scientific descriptions of human experience, and a resistance to traditional
dualisms like reason/emotion, mind/body, and nature/culture. Warren sim-
ply loves reason too much to be satisfied with the impoverished paradigm
that is objectivity.
Her central challenge to philosophy consists in her notion of “situated
universals,” in contrast to transcendental or abstract moral principles ar-
rived at through reason alone. For example, in order to care about those
oppressed on the basis of race, class, or gender issues, one must under-
stand how these categories are social structures, and how they inform par-
ticular people’s lives and experiences. Thus universal principles are best
understood as heuristic devices, “guidelines—rules of thumb, useful gener-
alizations” (Warren 2000, 114), more or less suited to the situation at
hand. They are “situated” because they grow out of and reflect historically
particular, real-life experiences; and they are “universal” because they “ex-
press generalizations common to and reflective of lives of diverse people
situated in different historical circumstances” (114). By making connec-
tions across culture and history that do not sublimate differences, Warren
seriously challenges philosophy to give up its dream of the eternal, ahis-
torical idea.
The beauty of Warren’s account is that she does not dismiss or refute
traditional mainstream theories and values, but rather attempts to include
them. She envisions ecofeminist philosophy as a kind of quilt: as a theory,
ecofeminism is not a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for specify-
ing what counts as right action, but rather a quilt bordered by boundary
conditions, within which individual squares cannot be predicted, but can
be repaired, replaced, or removed as they become old or faulty. Ecofeminism
is “always theory-in-process” (66). It may never have the closure of a com-
plete and finished theory, but the advantages of this open-endedness are
versatility and adaptability. The boundary conditions stipulate that “noth-
ing that is knowingly, intentionally, or consciously naturist, sexist, racist,
or classist—which reinforces and maintains ‘isms of domination’—belongs
on the quilt” (67).
Likewise, concerning her fruit bowl analogy, the only ethical prin-
ciples disallowed from the fruit bowl are ones that do not make room for
emotional intelligence, and hence that preclude care-sensitive ethics. There
are two problems here, however. Using these principles of disqualification,

22 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT, 7(2) 2002


which traditional moral theories and values remain either in the fruit bowl
of ecofeminist ethics, or on the quilt of ecofeminist theory? If traditional
ethical theories all make it into the fruit bowl, then we already stand in a
tradition of care-sensitive ethics. Traditional ethics has, however, generally
denigrated emotion and distinguished it from reason. If traditional philo-
sophical theory is a quilt, then the quilt is indeed in sore need of repair,
now that feminists have uncovered naturist, sexist, racist, and classist bi-
ases within the history of philosophy. Various critics have shown that the
history of philosophy has privileged androcentric, Eurocentric views in a
way that is not incidental, but rather foundational, such that many panels
of the quilt need to be removed and replaced. Warren tends toward a lib-
eral inclusiveness that is to be commended, but that needs to be detailed
with respect to particular figures in the history of philosophy, if it is to be
shown that these theories can be retrieved in a way that meets the bound-
ary conditions of Warren’s quilt without substantial compromise to their
content. This problem is thus a challenge to philosophy to appropriate its
history to Warren’s ecofeminist vision.
The second problem concerns what remains of the notion of univer-
sality. Warren’s view may be much more radical than she supposes. It is
difficult to see how situated universals remain universal in any meaningful
sense. Retaining the notion of universality is, I suspect, intended to pre-
vent care-sensitive ethics from decaying into relativism. Relativism is only
a threat, however, from the universalist position. The relativist need not
promote an “anything goes” philosophy, but rather can rely on the insight
that the lifeworld is negotiated using judgment and experience, which are
affected by cultural, historical, class, race, and gender location. Environ-
mental ethics is in fact proof that situation has an impact on moral choices
and moral behavior, if for no other reason than the fact that moral theory
is confronted by a host of new problems in contemporary environmental
crises.
Warren maintains that her view is a “mixed reform and revolution
position” (Warren 2000, 98), but her view is radical in its challenge to
universalism, and her rejection of traditional notions of objectivity and
rationality. Her ethics are most definitely not impartial. Her situated uni-
versalism is comparable to Heidegger’s treatment of essence as culturally
and historically fixed. His rethinking of essence plays a central part in his
critique of objectivity and his call for an alternative rationality that is po-
etic rather than representational. Warren shares his intent to envision an

TRISH GLAZEBROOK KAREN WARREN’S ECOFEMINISM 23


alternative to the rationality of objectivity, and Heideggerian essentialism
provides a conceptual basis for encompassing pluralism without decaying
into a debilitating relativism. She is arguing for a shift in the paradigm of
rationality at the heart of traditional philosophy, and her ecofeminist mes-
sage is thus a challenge to the very core of philosophy, to the scientism that
underwrites modernity, and to the patriarchal tradition that is the history
of the West. Her resistance to patriarchy’s rational logic of domination is
not irrational, but rather eminently sensible, given contemporary crises of
ecology and justice.
Indeed, Warren’s perspective on ecofeminsm promises new ways of
thinking that respect rather than assault. Her analysis leads far beyond the
disciplines of both feminism and environmentalism to suggest a new world
order that entails changing contemporary conceptions of what nature is,
what it means to be human, and what it means to be ethical. I have argued
that there are still many questions to be answered by Warren, but also that
her work on ecofeminism makes asking those questions possible in con-
structive and promising ways—in fact, that Warren’s ecofeminism matters
because it uncovers how all issues of oppression and domination are inter-
connected and cannot be resolved in isolation, because it attends to the
empirical data in order to raise questions about the global impact of poor
environmental practices on women’s lives, because it shows how ecofeminist
spiritualities are a source of empowerment rather than a reinscription of
negative gender categories, and because it challenges philosophy to give
up restrictive conceptions of reason in favor of an innovative thinking-in-
progress in order to find successful ways to deal with contemporary politi-
cal and environmental crises.

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