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Discussion seminar Carolyn Merchant March 31 – Reflection by Kristina Berglund
How has Merchant helped you in your understanding of environmental history? (Has she?)
Carolyn Merchant’s thought-provoking book ‘The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution’ was in the 1980’s groundbreaking for its thoroughly examination of the connection between women and nature and the exploration of how the view of nature and women have changed throughout history. By focusing on these topics Merchant later gained the epithet ‘Ecofeminist’. The fact that Ecofeminism stems from Merchant’s ideas (amongst others) was new to me, even though I am familiar with the notion of Ecofeminism since before. Ecofeminism as a philosophy and movement has underwent some changes since Merchant’s earliest work is and can be somewhat hard to define. It seems however that it is based on the premise that the oppression of women the domination of nature is fundamentally linked and that this is due to the existence of a patriarchal dualism that places women and the concept of ‘nature’ in the same classification. Despite some relevant criticism that ecofeminism has been exposed to, for example that it holds an essentialist view of women and their affinity to nature, I think it includes some significant points – such as promoting a gender perspective in the environmental debate in general, both in decision making as well as in seeing how women and men are affected by climate change in different ways.
Merchant argues that during the rise of industrialism, when the destruction of the environment worsened the oppression of women also increased in a way never seen before. As the mechanistic world view gained strength, the age old view of the world perceived as a living breathing entity to be nurtured and protected faded away. The before positive perception of women and nature ‘as one’ turned into an obstacle and thus women became more oppressed. As discussed in class though, women have been dominated by men for a very long time, and I am not entirely sure if I see the big difference in female oppression before the scientific revolution and after. In many ways, the situation of women has also improved after the rise of industrialism, and many of the rights I take for granted today I have acquired thanks to the struggle of many women and feminists before my time.
For me, Merchant’s book ‘The Death of Nature’ has added to my understanding of environmental history as a comprehensive review of history of ideas and theory about changing perceptions of women and ecology. Her ideas of a transition from an organic worldview to a mechanistic worldview and the dichotomies of human-nature are not new for us in the global environmental history program. It has been discussed in different ways in the Current Debates course by both Alf Hornborg and Jason Moore as well as in the previous semester. However, I found Merchant’s specific focus on the connection between women and nature and the Ecofeminism theories to be an interesting expansion of my understanding of environmental history, and I am sure it will be possible to continue to discuss it in connection to future themes in the program.
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