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Ariel Salleh, Embodied Materialism in Action: Meta-Industrial Class Struggle

Embodied Materialism in Action: An Interview with Ariel Salleh Gerry Canavan, Lisa Klarr, and Ryan Vu

Ariel Salleh has been working at the intersection of ecology, feminism, and materialism since the early 1980s. Her emphasis on the need for an embodied materialist analysis of global capitalism offers a crucial antidote to the objective idealisms of postmodern and poststructuralist thought. Her seminal work Ecofeminism as Politics: Nature, Marx, and the Postmodern (1997) seeks to politicize ecofeminism, a branch of ecological thought often imagined to be “murky” and “essentialist,” particularly in its 1970s iteration. In Ecofeminism as Politics, Salleh introduces the ideological formation Man/Woman = Nature to underscore how the aligning of “woman” with “nature” allows for the instrumentalist appropriation of both nature and woman-as-nature. Climate change, overfarming, ocean acidification—all ecological crises stem from this basic ideological structure. In other words, all of these crises are sex-gendered. For Salleh, this is the hidden complication subtending the human/nature split, holding it in place despite the work of otherwise astute critical analysis. Her work is thus a key intervention into the fields of Marxism, socialism, and ecology, and it was with the intent of bringing the insights of feminism into conversation with scholars striving after eco-socialist aims that Salleh joined the editorial board of Capitalism Nature Socialism in 1988, a position she continues to hold. Salleh’s embodied materialist understanding of nature, society, and capitalism has evolved through decades of activist work. She has been a co-convener of the Movement Against Uranium Mining, founding member of the Greens, a participant in local catchment campaigning, the representative ecologist on the Australian government’s Gene Technology Ethics Committee, and an original signatory of the 2001 Eco-Socialist Manifesto.

Polygraph spoke with Ariel Salleh over email in Fall 2009.

Embodied Materialism in Action

Polygraph. You’ve had a lot to say about the conceptual dualism of humanity versus nature over the years, but there are contributors to this issue who would contest any notion of nature—even calling for an “ecology without nature.”

Ariel Salleh. Well, I think we are talking about different preoccupations here. Tim Morton’s thesis in Ecology Without Nature is rather like Judith Butler’s ejection of the idea of woman from feminism.1 Each author sets out to demonstrate how language is never adequate to its object. Yet paradoxically there is a de facto quest for positivist certainty beneath this restless constructionism. And it seems to me that Morton’s deferrals actually end up reifying his elusive nature and personifying it as a trickster, a move that echoes Donna Haraway’s earlier seduction by the coyote figure.2 Three decades of poststructuralism, “the linguistic turn” and its flight from essentialisms, suggests that the voyage to conceptual purity inevitably founders in a semantic swamp. On the other hand, it is possible to acknowledge politically fraught terms like nature or woman and yet still work with them. In fact, if political theory is to be grounded in praxis, it has to bracket out or suspend these epistemological nuances to reach people in everyday in life. To reinforce the ecological resistance of ordinary women or to encourage sex-gender sensitivity in activist men, one must use the words they understand. This means working both in the ideological medium and against it at the same time—with people, so that they can develop reflexivity.

Morton himself is vaguely dismissive of ecofeminist politics, though in a rather unscholarly way, without citations to substantiate his view.

read more http://www.lancs.ac.uk/staff/twine/ecofem/SallehPolygraph.pdf