Postcolonialist and Ecofeminist Perspectives on Human-Environment Relations

Ecofeminism and Postcolonialism

Ecofeminism sprouted from the increasing (Western) awareness of the relationships between women and nature (Merchant, 1992). It is both a theoretical standpoint and a movement that links the exploitation and degradation of the environment with the subordination and oppression of women (Mellor, 1997). This consciousness offers a stepping-stone to connecting environmental ‘destruction’ with other forms of social domination than those essentially based on sexism.

Although ecofeminist analyses have much to say about these (Salleh, 1997), feminist approaches begin with women (Warren, 2000). Postcolonialism explores the effects of colonization, a process seen as involved in many forms of domination. There is much to be gained by examining human relations to nature with postcolonialist perspectives. This is not to sideline ecofeminism, but rather, to appreciate how much may be learned by employing postcolonialist approaches concomitantly with ecofeminist approaches in studying the current ecological crisis. Ann Brooks (1997) explores the terrain of postfeminism — a place where feminism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism intersect. Studies of the environment that (do and should) include discussions of society and culture can certainly benefit from scrutiny through multiple and hybridized theoretical lenses.

The Construction of Nature

“The environment, even the supposedly ‘natural’ environment, cannot be understood without considering the cultural, political and economic processes through which the environment becomes caught up in power relations” (Rose, Kinnaird, Morris, & Nash, 1997, p. 146). Humans construct ‘nature’; it is not a self-evident category. What many may consider only a crisis of the environment is really a social and cultural emergency as well (Wilson, 1991). Critical thinking is necessary in order to recognize the relations of power involved in discussions of, and actions involving, nature.

Colonizing Nature

“Postcolonial theory has asserted the need to carefully consider how present-day social and cultural practices are marked by histories of colonialism” (Willems-Braun, 1997, p. 3). Colonialism is a process of subjugation that has occurred throughout human history and in various different contexts. Modern colonialism is deeply rooted in European imperialism, although it must be understood that the world was not free of colonization beforehand. The primary difference between modern colonialism and previous forms is its intimate involvement with capitalism (Loomba, 1998). That being said, it is important to appreciate colonialism as a concept with plural meanings. There is no one colonial experience. Postcolonialism is the contestation of colonialism, past and present, rather than the acceptance of a distinct temporal stage of ‘postcoloniality’ (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffen, 1998; Blunt & Wills, 2000). Colonialism persists in the discourses and institutions of ‘postcolonial’ states and cultures.


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