Hypatia Symposium – Interview with Michael Doan

Michael Doan, Eastern Michigan University, on “Complex Problems and Motivational Inertia.”  This video interview, conducted by C. Shaheen Moosa, accompanies Doan’s article “Climate Change and Complacency,” published in Volume  29, number 3, 2014.

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Hypatia Symposium – Interview with Lorraine Code

Lorraine Code, Distinguished Research Professor Emerita in philosophy at York University in Toronto and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, on “Epistemic Responsibility and Climate Change Skepticism.”  This video interview, conducted by C. Shaheen Moosa, accompanies Code’s article “Culpable Ignorance?” published in Volume 29, number 3, 2014.

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Hypatia Symposium – Interview with Heidi Grasswick

Heidi Grasswickthe George Nye and Anne Walker Boardman Professor of Mental and Moral Science at Middlebury College, on “Climate Change, Positionality, and Responsible Trust.”  This video interview, conducted by C. Shaheen Moosa, accompanies Grasswick’s “Climate Change Science and Responsible Trust: A Situated Approach,” published in Volumed 29, number 3, 2014.

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Hypatia Symposium – Climate Change, Buen Vivir, and the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Toward a Feminist Critical Philosophy of Climate Justice by REGINA COCHRANE

Climate Change, Buen Vivir, and the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Toward a Feminist Critical Philosophy of Climate Justice

hypatia_coverRegina%20Cochrane%20 REGINA COCHRANE

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary

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The issue is not… what the critics of civilization… have in mind. The point is rather that the Enlightenment must consider itself, if men are not to be wholly betrayed. The task to be accomplished is not the conservation of the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past. (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, xv)

1 The Climate Crisis in Latin America: A Crisis of Modern Civilization?

In the lead-up to and wake of the failure of the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 15) in Copenhagen in December 2009, a number of important mobilizations focusing on the climate crisis have been initiated and/or held in Latin American regions severely affected by climate change. Most of these regions—notably, the Andes and the Amazon—also have a significant indigenous presence. The 2009 World Social Forum, which met in the Amazonian city of Belém and marked the first significant inclusion of indigenous perspectives within the WSF framework, opened with a Pan-Amazonian Day focusing on climate change. In an initiative originating at this meeting, indigenous delegates invited groups from around the world to organize local actions later the same year, as part of a Global Mobilization for Mother Earth, in order to “open up the debate… with the proposal of the indigenous peoples, so as to halt climate catastrophe” (CAOI et al. 2009). This was followed by the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights, called by Bolivian president Evo Morales and held in Cochabamba in April 2010. Discussions on indigenous responses to climate change continued at the 2010 Americas Social Forum in Asuncíon, Paraguay—the only Latin American country to grant official status to an indigenous language (Guaraní)—and at the Rio+20 People’s Summit, held in conjunction with the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The Cochabamba climate conference and the Asuncíon ASF were also notable for the inclusion of workshops bringing urban feminists together with indigenous women to discuss the implications, for women, of these proposed responses to climate change.

Although most activists and NGOs from the Global South attribute the climate crisis to “the prevailing socio-economic system in the world today—a system that has proven capable of generating unprecedented wealth for some at the same time [as] impoverishing the majority of people and devastating the planet” (Quintos and Corpus 2010, 6), these recent Latin American mobilizations have shifted the blame instead to what they describe as a culturally oriented “civilizational crisis.” This focus is illustrated by the 2009 call for the Global Mobilization for Mother Earth:

Greed for profit and accumulation, the individualism of capitalism, have brought about a deep financial, economic, productive, social, cultural, racial and religious crisis.… So many and such deep simultaneous crises form an authentic crisis of civilization itself: a crisis of the myth and the snare of “capitalist development and modernity”; of Eurocentrism, with its one-nation state, cultural homogeneity, Western positive law, developmentalism and commercialization.… We, the indigenous peoples, for thousands of years have built civilizations based on balance and harmony between human beings and Mother Nature. For that reason, we knew how to conserve biodiversity and to produce foods essential for humanity, in societies without exploitation. Today we offer our values, our practices and our knowledge to save the planet, without capitalist imposition, destruction nor contamination. (CAOI et al. 2009)

In more specific terms, what has been offered at recent Latin American mobilizations, as values, practices, and knowledge capable of responding to climate change and “saving the planet,” is the recuperation of the indigenous Andean cosmovision of sumak kawsay(Quechua) or suma qamaňa (Aymara), which translate into Spanish as buen vivir or vivir bien (Huanacuni Mamani 2010, 15) and into English as “good living” or “living well.” This stance is stated most forcefully and most clearly in the position statement drawn up and distributed by a coalition of indigenous organizations at the Rio+20 People’s Summit:

The climate crisis is not a technical but rather an ethical and political problem. We must turn our eyes toward Mother Earth, see her as something sacred, treat her with respect. This is the main contribution of the indigenous peoples of the Andes and their organizations: a new civilizational paradigm, Buen Vivir as the alternative to climate change and to the civilizational crisis. (CAOI et al. 2012, 7)1

Hence, as Christophe Aguiton and Hélène Cabioc’h succinctly observe in the title of their article discussing the emergence of the concept of buen vivir at the Belém WSF and the Cochabamba climate conference, “climate justice calls into question Western modernity” (Aguiton and Cabioc’h 2010, 64). Moreover, the key aspect of modernity questioned is modern reason. Buen vivir is thus presented as a “new approach to Nature, different from modern rationality such as the West has brought” (69).

This call for a civilizational shift to buen vivir in response to climate change has to be understood in relation to contemporary political developments in Ecuador and Bolivia—which have large indigenous populations—as well as trends in wider academic circles in Latin America. Both Ecuador and Bolivia reformed their constitutions, in 2008 and 2009 respectively, officially adopting the status of “plurinational” states and incorporating buen vivir/vivir bien as ordering principles in their new constitutions (León 2010, 98). According to Aymara sociologist María Eugenia Choque, these reforms are in keeping with an “Indianist ideology” that, in response to five centuries of extreme racism and marginalization, seeks to recover indigenous identity and self-esteem by reconstructing indigenous communal authorities (Lanza 2012, 3). It is important to note here, as well, the involvement in these debates of Latin American academics—mostly sociologists and economists—whose previous work focused on critiques of Eurocentrism, coloniality/modernity, Enlightenment universalism, and Western epistemology (Escobar 2010, 76–80), and “civilizational models” (Lander 2000, 12).2

Most indigenous advocates of buen vivir and their academic allies call for the rejection of Western values and “modern rationality,” except for limited applications or hybdridizations in fields such as (green) technology (Quirola Suárez 2009, 107; cf. Lanza 2012, 3) and law (Santos 2010, 157). However, certain Latin American feminists are questioning this proposed “civilizational shift.” Pointing to the dangers of idealizing and essentializing traditional communities, Bolivian sociologist Cecilia Salazar, for example, contends that modernity cannot be reduced to capitalism and that it contains emancipatory elements like the individual rights associated with leading one’s own life (Lanza 2012, 15).

While searching for alternatives to the multifaceted crisis of global warming (Acosta 2010, 78), “there is no room, then, for either dogmas or orthodoxies” (87), insists Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta. Indeed, given its incorporation of “critical” trends in Western thought, Acosta emphasizes that buen vivir is not purely Andean in either its origins or its aspirations (Escobar 2012, xxvi). In a debate that has turned into a minefield of identity politics,3 Acosta’s intervention opens up space for a contribution from feminist political philosophy in order to examine, at a more theoretical level, some central assumptions being made in the above responses to global warming. Hence, the discussion that follows will delve further into Salazar’s stance on the emancipatory elements in modernity by linking a more developed version of this position to a critique of certain problematic suppositions about nature, the reason/nature divide, and Enlightenment prevalent in contemporary debates about buen vivir. It will argue that, in order to adequately address both the climate crisis and feminist concerns about buen vivir as a response to climate change, a different critique of Enlightenment modernity is necessary—one drawing on Adorno’s nonidentitarian philosophy of negative dialectics and on the negative dialectical understanding of Enlightenment modernity that he developed with early Frankfurt School colleague Max Horkheimer.

In order to make the case that Adorno’s negative dialectical understanding of Enlightenment constitutes an important point of departure for a feminist critical philosophy of climate justice, this paper will be organized as follows. In part II, the arguments for buen vivir as a response to climate change, made by Latin American academics and indigenous intellectuals, will be analyzed in more detail in order to uncover problematic assumptions therein about nature, the reason/nature divide, and Enlightenment modernity. Part III will examine feminist critiques of buen vivir and relate these critiques to the assumptions uncovered in the previous section. In part IV, Adorno and Horkheimer’s understanding of nonidentity, the disenchantment of nature, and the dialectic of Enlightenment will be explored in order to reveal certain resonances with buen vivir while moving beyond the limitations of buen vivir as highlighted by indigenous Andean and Latina feminists. The paper will conclude, in part V, with a brief discussion of how feminist critiques of buen vivir and feminist calls for climate justice can be furthered via engagement with an environmental feminist philosophy informed by a negative dialectical critique of Enlightenment.

Buen Vivir as a Response to Climate Change and the Crisis of Enlightenment Reason

Ecuadorian feminist economist Magdalena León provides a useful summary overview of the main tenets of buen vivir:

Buen Vivir is described as the collective achievement of a full life or a life [lived] in fulfillment, based on harmoni[ous] and balanced relations among human beings and all living beings, [co-existing] in reciprocity and complementarity. It involves the acknowledgement that human beings are part of nature, that we depend on it and that we are inter-dependent among ourselves. This perspective signals a break with the centrality of the individual, as well as the superiority of human beings and the notions of progress, development and “well-being” in the capitalist sense. (León 2012, 24)

For León, global warming is the product of a “civilizing pattern” that is destroying the foundations of life. In contrast, buen vivir represents an evolving economic alternative that is “displacing not only the centrality of the market but also the centrality of human beings [and] giv[ing] way to the acknowledgement of life in an integral sense” (23).

The emphasis accorded by León to the break with the individual and to collectivity, harmony, reciprocity, complementarity, and interdependence among humans and with nonhuman nature all indicate that buen vivir subscribes to a holistic ontology of nature, at both the human and nonhuman levels. Moreover, acknowledging that humans form part of nature while insisting on their nonsuperiority/noncentrality to life as such—assertions in keeping with a holistic understanding of nature—problematizes the separation of human from nonhuman life produced by the Enlightenment’s disenchantment of nature. Finally, questioning the centrality of the individual, progress, and science-and-technology-based development—all central pillars of the European Enlightenment project—when added to the implicit call to re-enchant nature implies a fundamental challenge to Enlightenment and rationality per se. That these interrelated themes are central in the endeavor to recuperate buen vivir can be supported by a more detailed examination of how each is treated in writings of other Latin American academics and indigenous intellectuals supporting the buen vivir project.

In keeping with the holistic vision that it draws from ancestral knowledge (Benalcázar 2009, 130), buen vivir “proposes a cosmovision of harmony of human communities with nature, in which the human being is part of a community of persons that, in turn, is a constituent element of the Pachamama herself, of Mother Earth” (Quirola Suárez 2009, 105). Buen vivir is thus a communitarian paradigm (Huanacuni Mamani 2010, 40) that views the human being as naturally cooperative and gregarious, as “a social and solidary individual who attains fulfillment in life shared with others” (Ramírez 2010, 125), in a community extending beyond social relations to a profound relation to life itself (Huanacuni Mamani 2010, 33). In this larger community of humans with nonhuman nature, harmony is maintained by keeping consumption within the limits that the ecosystem can sustain (49). Hence, buen vivir is a value system specifying ethical and spiritual codes of conduct in relation to the greater social and natural environment (Wray 2009, 55-56).

Proponents of buen vivir insist on the need for strengthening and defending human rights and democracy (Acosta 2010, 91). Indeed, they view “buen vivir, then, serv[ing] as a platform to discuss and apply responses… [to both] the devastating effects of climate change… and increasing social marginalization and violence” (Acosta 2012, 299). The emphasis, however, is placed on new laws conceived in holistic rather than individualistic terms and thus rooted in complementarity (Lanza 2012, 21), collective rights (Benalcázar 2009, 144), intergenerational justice (Quirola Suárez 2009, 104), ancestral communitarian natural law (Huanacuni Mamani 2010, 70), and cultural rights (Wray 2009, 56).

It is true, as Mexican economist Ana Esther Ceceña notes, that the separation of society from nature originates with Western culture and is not typical of the aboriginal cultures of the Americas (Ceceña 2010, 46). However, to claim that this separation arose from differences, dating back millennia, between a predatory, dualistic, hierarchical, and individualizing—that is, a proto-capitalist—culture, “born with the exaltation of the human,” and one that was nonpredatory, pluralistic, fraternal, convivial, and nature-identified (Ceceña 2012, 307–11) is essentialist and ahistorical. Equally essentialist and ahistorical is the claim that the human struggle for survival was gradually transformed into the desperate effort to dominate nature, a project that was ultimately accorded justification in the European philosophy of Bacon and Descartes (Acosta and Machado 2012, 68–69). Indeed, it must be emphasized that in premodern Europe—as in the indigenous cultures of the Americas—the prevailing mode of social organization was communal and the earth was viewed as a nurturing mother (Merchant 1980, 1–2).4

Delving into the issue at a deeper level by drawing on the Weberian notion of the “disenchantment of nature,” Venezuelan sociologist Edgardo Lander notes the rise to hegemony, in the Western world, of a form of reason that separates itself from the rest of nature. This reason is associated with a subject who turns nature into an external thing or object to be known, in order to control it and thus transform it into material goods for human consumption. For Lander, it is the sustained growth of this “industrial civilization” and its “logic of mercantilization” that has led to the contemporary civilizational crisis—a crisis whose leading edge is nature’s destruction “in most profound terms [via] so-called climate change” (Lander 2010, 161–65). This Eurocentric, colonial (171), and “carcinogenic civilizational pattern” (164), which naturalizes human inequality and wages a systematic war against nature, must be radically questioned (171). He elaborates on this:

This exteriority [of reason to nature] has big implications. In the first place, it implies that, unlike [in] other cultures, so-called nature is totally disenchanted; that is, nature completely loses all sacred character.… If the human is thought of as the other, different from so-called nature, an absolutely instrumental relation is thus established with so-called nature—I am saying “so-called nature” because obviously we are all part of nature, we are all part of life, there does not exist any possibil[ity of] separation between humans and life—a relation so instrumental that it appears perfectly normal to us that we speak of water, that we speak of iron, that we speak of the forest as natural resources.… Life is not a resource. Therefore, to think of life as a resource is to think in a totally instrumental form, totally negating of and destructive of life. (Lander 2010, 162, my emphasis)

Lander’s insistence on the need, before time runs out, for a new “cosmovision” capable of healing the radical human–nature separation introduced by the West and its modern civilizational pattern (159–63) is widely shared by proponents of buen vivir. Whereas Ceceña proposes “turning back” this separation that was spread by Western colonization (Ceceña 2010, 46–47), Acosta seeks to facilitate the “re-encounter” of humanity and nature by “bind[ing] the Gordian knot cut by the force of a conception of life that turned out to be predatory and indeed intolerable” (Acosta 2012, 297). If the disenchantment of nature is a totally negative phenomenon arising out of greed and the desire for vivir mejor—a “living better” rooted in unlimited progress, endless accumulation, and competition that relegates the vast majority to “living badly,” vivir mal—calling for its reversal would seem to be the only option.

Hypatia Symposium – Weathering: Climate Change and the “Thick Time” of Transcorporeality by ASTRIDA NEIMANIS, RACHEL LOEWEN WALKER

Weathering: Climate Change and the “Thick Time” of Transcorporeality

hypatia_coverAstrida Neimanisloewen_walker







Researcher, Gender Studies, TEMA Institute,  Linköping University, Sweden


Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Saskatchewan


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Introduction: Toward a New Imaginary of Climate Change

If there is something like climate change, perhaps it takes this form: not only a mutation of this climate (warming, depleting, becoming more volatile) but an alteration of what we take climate to be. (Colebrook2012, 36)

Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. August. Spruce trees at Swallowtail, root-toes curled around the rocky outcrop in a resigned sort of precarity. Made to coexist with the credence of the Fundy weather, these timbered lives are permanently swayed, their strong backbones constantly giving way to the wind. The weather-archive of their multiply ringed existences has stories to tell: of a hurricane’s landfall, or the eye of a maritime gale; of coastal droughts, and semidiurnal tides, and the Atlantic sun filtered through sea smoke and autumn fog and the clear-eyed blue of nothing at all. How has the hot breath of the earth, the battering of its rain, the reprieve of its gentle snows shaped my own sinews, my gait, the ebb and flow of my own bodily humors? Duration, spread across my skin with the slow sweep of the seasons. Like these trees, we are all, each of us, weathering.

Although framed in a language of urgency and impending crisis, “climate change” has taken on an abstract quality in contemporary Western societies. Melting ice caps and rising sea levels are “perceived as spatially and temporally distant” (Slocum 2004, 1) from our everyday lives. This distance is related to the time scale and global reach of the problem, but also stems from scientific discourses that “produce vast quantities of sometimes contradictory, abstract statistics and data” (Duxbury 2010, 295). Commentators repeatedly note that climate change has become “difficult to comprehend or connect with in an appreciable way” (294). Claire Colebrook has argued that we suffer from a “hyper-hypo-affective disorder” (Colebrook 2011, 45) whereby despite being surrounded by warnings of resource depletion, predictions of changing weather patterns, and a growing cinematic imaginary of the world’s end, “there is neither panic nor any apparent affective comportment that would indicate that anyone really feels or fears [this threat]” (53). She describes this imaginary as one invested in the consumption of affect (transfixing news coverage of a “natural” disaster; the rush of an apocalyptic movie) without intensity—without any mobilization of responsivity or sense that our bodies and our time are mutually implicated in environmental changes. It is within this context that we recognize the need for a different kind of ethos in relation to climate change, one that would mobilize the responsivity and intensity of which Colebrook writes. We need to rethink the “spacetimematter” of climate change and our implication therein.

Like other climate change theorists and activists, we propose to bridge the distance of abstraction by bringing climate change home. As described in many climate change appeals, this home is a Western, urban, and domesticated home that more often than not seeks to extract itself from the weather-world. But we recall, too, that oikos is both “home” and another way of saying “eco.” In this paper we thus also invite our readers to be interpellated into the ecological spacetime of a much more expansive home, at once as distant as that melting icecap, and as close as our own skin. This home is a transcorporeal one, “where human corporeality… is inseparable from ‘nature’ or ‘environment’” (Alaimo 2008, 238). To bring climate change home, in this context, entails reconfiguring our spatial and temporal relations to the weather-world and cultivating an imaginary where our bodies are makers, transfer points, and sensors of the “climate change” from which we might otherwise feel too distant, or that may seem to us too abstract to get a bodily grip on. We propose that if we can reimagine “climate change” and the fleshy, damp immediacy of our own embodied existences as intimately imbricated, and begin to understand that the weather and the climate are not phenomena “in” which we live at all—where climate would be some natural backdrop to our separate human dramas—but are rather of us, in us, through us, we might ignite the intensity that Colebrook calls for.

To build this project, we draw on feminist new materialist and posthumanist approaches that help us to understand climate change and human bodies as partaking in a common space, a conjoined time, a mutual worlding that we call weathering. We maintain that this sort of concept-creation can help gestate the new imaginary we call for. Like the more immediately embodied interventions by eco-artists such as Kirsten Justesen, Basia Irland, or Roni Horn that have the ability to frame climate change in powerful and personally felt ways (Alaimo2009; Duxbury 2010), we argue, along with Elizabeth Grosz, that philosophical interventions can also “move [us] beyond the horizon of the present” (Grosz 2012, 15): concepts can supply us with “the provocation to think otherwise, to become otherwise” (22). Weathering is one such provocation. In creating this concept, we draw on Stacy Alaimo’s conception of transcorporeality to counter the fallacy of a bifurcated understanding of “nature” and “culture”—or of weather and humans—and propose instead an understanding of ourselves as weather bodies. The ebb and flow of meteorological life transits through us, just as the actions, matters, and meanings of our own bodies return to the climate in myriad ways. In order to better explicate the mechanics of these transactions, and the ontology they evidence, we also draw on Karen Barad’s theory of intra-action. Barad’s understanding of things as perpetually worlding—that is, as materializing from the intra-actions of always emergent things-in-phenomena—suggests to us the concept of weathering. With Barad, we recognize that relata do not precede relations (Barad 2007, 136): neither humans (replete with tools, products, and prostheses) nor the meteorological milieu of weather patterns, phases, and events can be understood as a priori relata. Instead, it is through weathering—the intra-active process of a mutual becoming—that humans and climate change come to matter.

Weathering, then, is a logic, a way of being/becoming, or a mode of affecting and differentiating that brings humans into relation with more-than-human weather. We can grasp the transcorporeality of weathering as a spatial overlap of human bodies and weathery nature. Rain might extend into our arthritic joints, sun might literally color our skin, and the chill of the wind might echo through the hidden hallways of our eardrums. But not coincidentally, the idea of weathering also invokes a certain perdurance—a getting on with, a getting by, a getting through. If transcorporeality is to be a meaningful theory for understanding climate change, then more careful attention to the temporalities that are an inextricable part of these relations is required. In part, we make this call because climate change as both phenomenon and discourse is thoroughly temporal: changing weather patterns, time-lines of the earth’s rising temperatures, and charts mapping its slowly mutating climatic cycles remind us that weather and climate are far from static events. At the same time, neoliberal “progress narratives” of human-directed salvation jockey for position in the dominant climate change imaginary with environmental “sustainability narratives” of holding onto or even reverting to a pristine almost-past (the incompatibility of these temporal orientations most often going unremarked). Our proposal to reimagine climate change as a transcorporeal, intra-active phenomenon, then, is one that pays specific attention to the temporality of weather bodies—both human and more-than-human.

This intervention in our cultural imaginary of climate change would enable us to think the relationship between human bodies and climate according to what we call “thick time,” a transcorporeal stretching between present, future, and past, that foregrounds a nonchronological durationality. This project shifts away from the dominant temporality of climate change discourse, where progress and sustainability narratives meld in the anticipatory mode of “what should we do to stop climate change?” and instead asks “how is climate change me?” We seek to cultivate a sensibility that attunes us not only to the “now” of the weather, but toward ourselves and the world as weather bodies, mutually caught up in the whirlwind of a weather-world, in the thickness of climate-time. In short, as weathering.

Importantly, this shift away from the “stop climate change” temporal narrative is not for us a weakening of possibilities for ethico-political engagement, but rather an opening up of a different sort of political and ethical orientation toward these questions: a politics of possibility and an ethics of responsivity. Whereas a politics of possibility rejects the idea that climate change can be stopped or solved according to predetermined actions, an ethics of responsivity recognizes that the dream of solution must give way to an ongoing engagement with a weather-world in flux: an engagement that must necessarily extend beyond our individualized “home” to the larger transcorporeal one that we share.

Nor does our proposal seek to denigrate other feminist analyses of climate change that underline the gendered, racialized, and colonial power politics at play in both how climate change is experienced and how responsibility should be attributed (for example, Alaimo 2009; Seager 2009; Cuomo 2011; Glazebrook 2011). In fact, it is in explicit recognition of the ways in which bodies are differently situated in relation to climate change that we call for greater attention to our own weathering. If climate change is an abstract notion, this is closely bound to a privileged Western life that is committed to keeping the weather and its exigencies out, and that is geared toward the achievement of a flat, linear temporality of progress undisturbed by those same exigencies. For academics (including feminist philosophers) and others similarly bound to a temporality of school terms, grant cycles, and publishing deadlines, we are pressed upon by the imperative to seal out the weather. Moreover, international air travel, transnational collaborations, and research or sabbatical stays are themselves weathermakers, and to live continuously across time zones can aggravate the cultivation of the sensibility of thick time we describe in these pages. Yet if such a life is the reality of our authorial we, and perhaps of your readerly one, too, we feel compelled to explore how an embodied existence more or less beholden to velocity, placelessness, and screen-based sociality can nonetheless nurture the sort of imaginary we call for. In other words, the interpellated “we” of this paper is fairly specific, even while weathering as a way of living this imaginary is not limited to this “we.” Weathering is already lived, in nuanced and particular ways, by the subsistence farmer, the young person sleeping rough, the woman who collects household water from a drying reservoir miles from her home, the wheelchair-user on a flooded city street (not to mention the spawning salmon, the baobab tree, the algal bloom, the Arctic ice). Each of these bodies has its own temporality, its own rhythms of weathering, yet we are all implicated in one another’s spacetimes as weathermakers. The ethos of responsivity we call for demands attunement to and acknowledgment of these other temporalities, and a more humble, generous, and self-reflexive understanding of how our own weathering may bear upon that of others.

One final caveat is necessary before proceeding. In both scientific and common discourse, one will not find the easy flow between and interchange of the phenomena of “weather” and “climate” (or climate change) that you will find here. As explained by phenomenologist Julien Knebusch, whereas weather normally refers to a temporary state in the atmosphere, climate is more likely to refer to “large meteorological time such as seasons.” When we sense climate, we do not sense only the immediacy of the weather, but the relative stability of the weather over time. As Knebusch writes, even if climate stability is, on a larger scale, a myth, “for human sensations such stability is not a myth at all” (Knebusch n.d., 5). Whereas climate illuminates patterns over time, weather events are often surprising, capricious, and (seemingly) isolated—they may fulfill these overall patterns, or not. Knebusch notes that the feeling of weather is in fact most palpable when it contrasts with or interrupts the “constancy over time” that climate suggests to us (6). Such distinctions promote a spatialized view of climate time (that is, as something that we are “in” and whose linear progression we are outside observers to), while also suggesting that weather has no temporality at all. We hope to show that these distinctions between climate and weather are tenuous. Attention to the material archive of weather in any body—a human, a starfish, a tropical storm—reveals the history of a lightning flash, or the thick present of a February heat wave. Excavating the thick time of a weather event also illuminates a patterning in the dense duration of all phenomena. Although we recognize the practical desirability of retaining a distinction between “climate” and “weather,” in the context of our arguments here a loosening of this distinction is necessary. Our aim is to reduce the distance between the enormity of climate change and the immediacy of our own flesh. If we can hone a sensibility of ourselves as weather bodies in thick time, climate change can become palpable in the everyday, just as the duration of our bodies, prostheses, and projects becomes diffused through the thick time of the weather-world.


Hypatia Symposium – Only Resist: Feminist Ecological Citizenship and the Post-politics of Climate Change by SHERILYN MACGREGOR

Only Resist: Feminist Ecological Citizenship and the Post-politics of Climate Change

hypatia_coverMacGregor_SherilynSHERILYN MACGREGOR

Lecturer in Environmental Politics in SPIRE, Keele University


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Soon after the dust of Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth had settled, another eco-blockbuster film took British audiences by storm. The Age of Stupid offers a dystopian image of a devastated world in 2055 and a backwards look at missed opportunities for averting the “suicide of the species.” It is a cautionary tale about the price that future generations will pay for the ignorance of current generations. To tell the tale, the keeper of a global archive, the last man on earth, shows a video montage of the lives of six real people living in 2008 who are in different ways affected by, or implicated in, global climate change. The Archivist wonders: “what state of mind were we in, to face extinction and simply shrug it off?” The answer is, of course, that we were stupid. The film is hip and engaging, using wry humor and edgy music to call viewers to act before it is too late. It led to the creation of the “10:10” campaign, which has convinced hundreds of thousands of individuals and institutions in the UK to pledge to cut their carbon emissions by ten per cent per year. The campaign’s website appeals for members with the argument that “politicians have so far failed to do what needs to be done, so it’s time for ordinary people to step in and show that we’re ready to defend our children’s futures. It’s now or never for the climate.” 10:10 lists ten simple ways to cut carbon, advice for the kind of individual lifestyle changes (for example, “drive less, don’t waste water,” and so on) that the environmental movement has been espousing since the 1970s. But this time the message is slick and well marketed, with celebrity endorsements and jewelry to wear as a statement of having taken the pledge. One could make an interesting study of the introduction of personal pledge-taking to environmental politics, but what prompts the discussion in this essay is that the campaign vows to stay out of politics. One of its “ten tenets” reads, “10:10 is a campaign for immediate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and should not be used to push any other moral, social or political agenda.” And, worryingly, the word “citizen” is nowhere to be found.

As The Age of Stupid and the 10:10 campaign seem to illustrate, the climate crisis is changing the nature of environmentalism in the UK, and arguably in other parts of the affluent world. Although climate change may be a complex political issue, its command of the global agenda and its apocalyptic framing in the dominant discourse are symptomatic of what some European theorists call “the post-political condition” (Rancière 2001; Žižek 2002; Mouffe 2005). It is a condition, felt acutely in the West, that has been brought about by decades of neoliberal hegemony where manufactured agreement on economic, ecological, and political issues has led to the replacement of democratic politics by expert administration and consensual governance. The space of the political, where fundamental questions can be debated, such as “how should we live?,” has been narrowed in the name of solving urgent problems with the best available policies and minimal dissent. British theorist Erik Swyngedouw has applied the post-political thesis to the issue of climate change and offers some persuasive arguments for why we ought to be concerned, not only by the extreme weather and ecological disasters that climate change is bringing, but also by its implications for democratic debate about the future of human–nature relations on the planet.

In this essay, I consider what a post-political analysis of climate change might mean for feminist green politics. I argue that it prompts some specifically ecofeminist questions about the rise of climate change to the top of the global environmental agenda and about the scope for political action within this new hegemonic frame. In particular, I consider the implications for ecofeminism of what Swyngedouw calls a depoliticizing climate consensus that appears to erase social difference, to cast nature as an external threat to be endured, and to replace democratic public debate with expert administration and individual behavior change. So, on top of recognizing the impacts of climate change on the world’s vulnerable people, the majority of whom are women, racialized, and poor, we should also pause to wonder how it might challenge ecofeminism: what hope is there for radical political theories and social movements in times like these?

The discussion has three parts. First, I explain how the post-political condition can be used as a theoretical framework for understanding climate change. Here I summarize Swyngedouw’s recent work, because he has explored this approach more than any other theorist to date (Swyngedouw 20102011). His analysis does not include references to feminist theories or politics, however, so, in part two, I consider what might be the strategic, epistemological, and normative implications for feminist green politics of the dominant climate narrative. In the final part of the essay, I consider how an agonistic project of feminist ecological citizenship might be deployed as a means of resistance to the homogenizing discourse of climate crisis in this post-political “age of stupid.”

Climate Change and the Post-Political Condition

In “Apocalypse Forever? Post-political Populism and the Spectre of Climate Change,” Swyngedouw identifies the conjuncture of two phenomena: the construction of global climate consensus and the “increasing evacuation of the proper political from the public terrain” (Swyngedouw 2010, 214). The latter is the subject of concern for a number of European philosophers, such as Slavoj Žižek, Chantal Mouffe, and Jacques Rancière, who have written of a gradual process of depoliticization that has resulted in a post-political condition in the affluent world. These theorists define “the political” as a space of contestation through which citizens enact “the right to dissent, the right to argue against a particular consensus, the right to engage in antagonistic relations, the right to be alternative” (Kythreotis 2012, 549). The loss of this space and these rights calls into question the very existence of political democracy; this is a dangerous situation that requires urgent attention. It is important to understand that these theorists have not given up on politics, but rather their deep commitment to the political leads them to lament its erosion under neoliberalism. In my view, the value of the concept of “post-politics” is its ability to provoke debate and to reinvigorate ideas of resistance and citizenship.

The driving force behind the depoliticization process, the post-political analysis goes, is the “hegemonic grip that neoliberal ideas have over public affairs” (Catney and Doyle 2011, 178). In particular, the economic reasoning of neoliberalism, as expressed by such institutions as the World Bank and the IMF, makes good governance synonymous with arrangements that maximize efficient policy solutions while minimizing obstacles to their implementation. Dissent interferes with the free running of markets; the capitalist market economy is the foundation of socioeconomic order and individual freedom. Governing has become all about promoting consensus so that policy processes can be left to experts and bureaucrats. Citizens may be invited into governance processes via participatory mechanisms (for example, stakeholder consultations), but these are meant to manufacture popular consent to decisions that serve the interests of an elite minority rather than to promote democracy (Catney and Doyle 2011). Swyngedouw quotes Žižek to explain that “the ultimate sign of post-politics in all Western countries is the growth of a managerial approach to government: government is reconceived as a managerial function, deprived of its proper political dimension” (Swyngedouw 2011, 266). When the aim of management is to avoid making decisions that cause social unrest, compromise and expert administration are central. And this amounts to the end of politics (Rancière 2001).

How might we understand climate change through this post-political lens? Doing so requires acceptance of a constructivist analysis of climate change, seeing it as a “normatively charged” social construction where the scientific facts about climate change are “facts for social purposes” (Nicholas Onuf in Pettinger 2007, xiv). This analysis uncovers the interests and power relations operating behind an issue that, on the surface, appears to be highly politicized. Swyngedouw lists four key characteristics or symptoms to explain how the social construction of climate change can be presented as a process of depoliticization. First, there is widespread consensus that the global climate crisis is real, an imminent threat to the future of human civilization, and that it requires radical changes in how we live. It is “a consensus that is now largely shared by most political elites from a variety of positions, business leaders, activists, and the scientific community. The few remaining sceptics are increasingly marginalized as either maverick hardliners or conservative bullies” (Swyngedouw2010, 215). If there is legitimate disagreement, then it is primarily about which technologies to use, how to implement adaptation policies, and what arrangements provide the most effective policing. Although there may be competing interpretations of, and uncertainty about, the scientific data, there is little serious debate about the framing of the crisis itself or about the kinds of socio-ecological futures that might result from climate policy.

Second, the climate crisis is increasingly presented as a threat to humanity as a whole, as a “universal humanitarian threat” in which “we are all potential victims” (Swyngedouw 2011, 268). In 2009 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that, “amid all our difficulties,” we must remember that climate change is “the one true existential threat to our planet” (UN Press Release 2009; my emphasis). Even though there are competing framings of climate change, some of which foreground global divisions and disparities between colonizing and colonized people in the global North and South (the discourse of ecological debt and of “common but differentiated responsibilities” are good examples), the rhetoric of common existential threat suggests that material and ideological differences between people are well-nigh irrelevant in the face of natural forces beyond our control. It says that, when we are all in the same leaking boat careening toward the apocalypse, there is no space, time, or need for politics. Swyngedouw argues that this universalizing discourse currently drowns out the rest.

Third, scientific experts present climate change as a crisis that requires immediate action, predominantly in the form of governance-beyond-the-state. National political processes and international negotiations have proven to be too slow and cumbersome to deal with urgent needs: what is needed is decentered, participatory governance that rests on “self-management… and controlled self-disciplining, under the aegis of a non-disputed liberal-capitalist order” (Swyngedouw 2011, 270). So, rather than operate in the public spaces of politics, individuals are admonished to accept personal responsibility for reducing CO2 emissions. Through a neoliberal, disciplining process that some have called “responsibilization” (Rose 1999), we pledge to change our behavior rather than question the global and local asymmetries and inequities that create, sustain, and legalize institutional forms of environmental exploitation.

The fourth sign that the dominant framing of climate change is post-political, according to Swyngedouw, can be found in the power of scientific discourse not only to define the problem itself but also how we ought to relate to the natural world. Here I will sidestep the philosophical debate about whether there is such a thing as “nature” and how discursive constructions and the material facts presented by the natural sciences may or may not be related (but see Morton 2007). The main issue for the post-political thesis is that dominant climate narratives have fear as a central trope, which leads to a profoundly depoliticized imaginary. Swyngedouw writes: “apocalyptic imaginaries are extraordinarily powerful in disavowing or displacing social conflict and antagonisms. As such, apocalyptic imaginations foreclose a proper political framing” (Swyngedouw 2011, 263). Dystopian and apocalyptic narratives of natural disasters, chronic resource shortages, global pandemics and perpetual war—such as those shown vividly in The Age of Stupid—help to create acceptance of the need for extreme measures and radical policies (for example, on population growth). These narratives are not merely the stuff of science fiction: further examples can be found in the communications of UN conferences and grassroots organizations. One could look, for example, at the opening ceremony of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, which included Please Save the World, a video depicting a child’s nightmare about climate change, or at the publications of the Transition Town Movement, which is founded on predictions of civilizational collapse (Smith 2011). It has been argued that levels of public concern about climate change have declined in the US as a result of “apocalypse fatigue” (Nordhaus and Shellenberger 2008). Not only do apocalyptic climate narratives create a sense of emergency, they also cast the human–nature relationship as one of antagonism and conflict, where nature is threatening and out of control, and where societies must prepare themselves to withstand its wrath (Doyle and Chaturveydi 2010). Although Swyngedouw does not make this point, I would argue that this narrative gives rise to the concept of “climate resilience” that now pervades UN and NGO discourse. There has been a gradual policy shift from mitigation to resilience, which can be read as prioritizing the protection of people from climate-related disasters over the protection of the environment from human-related disasters of contamination, extraction, and extinction. As such, the dominant framing of climate change has produced a depoliticizing view of nature as the enemy, which can only serve to reduce further the political potential of environmentalism as a social movement that is dedicated to remedying destructive human–nature relations.

Hypatia Symposium – Interview with Carolyn Sachs

Carolyn Sachs, Professor of Rural Sociology and Head of Women’s Studies Department at Pennsylvania State University, discusses important themes in gender and climate change for the Hypatia special issue on Climate Change.


Browse the entire special issue of Hypatia here.




Interview conducted by C. Shaheen Moosa.