Val Plumwood, Parallels and Politics, from the book Ecofeminism: Women, culture and nature.

Val Plumwood’s project in this essay reaffirms the foundations of the philosophy of Ecofeminism in its critique of Anthropocentrism and Androcentrism.

Ecofeminism stems from the understanding that there exists a system of male centric oppression that enforces the domination of nature, the domination of women, which are interconnected, unjustified and must end.

Val Plumwood states that the critique of anthropocentrism is the defining task of Ecophilosophy and central to The Green movement.

Plumwood writes how our conceptual framework is a constructed collection of values, beliefs and attitudes of how we see the world and ourselves. Limiting the framework of our morality and rationality to the boundary of the human species, rather than expanding it to the welfare of categories of non-humans, is considered anthropocentric.

Plumwood begins by confronting a misguided understanding of anthropocentrism. William Grey (University of Queensland) denounces that nature can be valued independently from human interests. He writes:

Just as the sun was assumed to revolve around the earth, so, before the Copernican revolution, the universe was assumed to revolve around the human. Copernicus overcame parochialism through adjusting to a less earth centered viewpoint.’

Grey further states ‘that the only way in overcoming anthropocentrism requires a move away from human locality and human perspective to a view of the world through cosmic rather than human spectacles.’

Grey adds claim that to ‘defeat anthropocentrism we must distribute our preferences with perfect impartiality of consideration across humans and non-humans alike, to achieve a view from nowhere, which abandons all specifically human viewpoints on, or preferences about, the world.’ This is of course impossible.

How does one remove the self from a location in order to take up the position of a non-human perspective? The capacity of departing from ones framework of interests, values and perception is the troubled misreading of the critique of Anthropocentrism that Plumwood exposes as ignorant to the ecofeminist project.

Empathy and ethical consideration in treating others with sensitivity and consideration for their welfare, often seems to require some form of putting ourselves in anothers place, seeing the world from the perspective of a creature with its own desires and experiences rather than our own. This may involve transcendence of our location in space and time, not an elimination of it as to Grey’s critique.

Interpreting The Green critic as expanding the boundaries of morality in asking for a better deal for nature, a larger share and awareness, gives a rather better reading of the basic premise of green activism.

According to Val Plumwood, anthropocentrism is basically a framework of beliefs and perceptions that generates a myriad of illusions.

Plumwood in conquering these forms of centrism, requires attention to a certain sort of nexus of political relationships, which exhibit a centric structure. This centric structure puts an omnipotent subject at the centre (man) and constructs others as sets of negative (Other) qualities. This underlies racism, sexism and colonialism.

Androcentrism, Plumwood asserts, projects the centric structure of themasculine Centre and the feminine Other. We can compare similar structures when we look at the subjugation of the colonised and nature as Other. Val Plumwood identifies below the tyranny and transformation of the Other as typical of the subjugation emanating from this authoritarian masculine centre.

The radical human/masculine centric structure condemns the exclusion of the Otherised group as both inferior and separate. Uncivilised. An anthropocentric viewpoint treats nature as other and humans as hyper separated from nature. Human identity, i.e. rationality and freedom is in opposition to the natural, the physical, the biological, and the animal, including those human traits associated with animality, the authentically human includes also the “desire to exclude and distance” from the nonhuman.

Homogenisation allows differences within an Otherised group to be disregarded, the other is interchangeable, not distinct, therefore Nature and animals may be seen as alike in their absence of consciousness. Diversity is surplus to the colonisers, need and desire is ignored.

 -Once the other is marked as separated as inferior they are represented as inessential. The colonised are background to civilisation. The other whose prior ownership of the land is denied, and whose dispossession and murder is never spoken or admitted. Dependency on nature for human cannot be ignored and remains a source of anxiety and threat.

-Incorporation. Woman defined in relation to the man as central, is seen as a lack in relation to him. Intricate order of nature is seen as disorder, as unreason, to be replaced where possible by human order and development. Nature is considered as available without restriction. The colonised with their “disorderly” space are available for use without limit and the project of the coloniser is to remake the colonised and their space in the image of the colonisers own self-image

 – Instrumentalism. Others independent agency is downgraded or denied, she is valued as a means to ends rather than accorded value in her own right. Natures agency and independence of ends are denied and are subsumed in, or remade to coincide with, those of the human. The Other must then serve the human coloniser as means to his ends.

Plumwood’s project is one of decolonising the masculine centrism of its domination and entitlement over the Other. In the final chapter of the essay she considers a practical model in mobilising this liberation. Val appeals to green activism in illuminating the understanding of human embedment in nature.

Here lives an urgency of raising ones awareness to our place within nature not outside of it. Val proposes restructuring our relationships with nature, breaking down our sense of entitlement by not seeking to maximise its utility at the expense of our harmony as a part of it.

Plumwood’s project insightfully identifies the liberaton of nature with the liberation of the oppression of the Other in humanity. Val poses the question, can it ever be acceptable to speak for the other?

She answers this question by asserting that this kind of speech, the language of the liberation supporter, using the example of the male feminist and the white anti-racist, is fundamental to liberation politics. Further that a successful coalition against the centrifugal force of masculine domination, Plumwood concludes, is needed for Ecofeminists to speak from two sides, the “outsider within”, who speaks with bifurcated consciousness.

–       Warren, Karren J. Ecofeminism. Women, Culture, Nature –

–       Anthropocentrism and Androcentrism – An Ecofeminist Connection- Daniel Pérez Marina