Saturday, 21 July 2018
Book Review Routledge handbook of gender and environment, S. MacGregor (Ed.), Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY (2017), 519 pp. ISBN: 978-0-415-70774-9 (paperback)
Women's Studies International Forum Available online 8 May 2018 In Press, Corrected ProofWhat are Corrected Proof articles? Women's Studies International Forum Author links open overlay panelAlba SarayPérez-Terán Institute of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Granada, Granada, Spain Available online 8 May 2018. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wsif.2018.04.012 Get rights and content Although discussion on the connection between social inequalities and environmental degradation date back to 1890, the idea that both gendered power dynamics and environmental conditions are closely linked does not yet seem to have fully permeated neither the field of Environmental Studies nor Gender Studies. It is for this reason that Sherilyn MacGregor has joined forces to develop a collaborative volume ‘to break new ground by opening up an umbrella over this body of work and calling it a “field”’ (pg 6). Whereas the first stated links concentrated on women's supposed inherent connection to nature, this compelling volume shows how the field has diversified over the last thirty years to include topics such as transgender environmental studies, masculinity studies or queer ecology. Structured in four parts —I) Foundations; II) Approaches; III) Politics, Policy and Practice; and IV) Futures— the book covers from epistemological and ontological reflections of what constitutes the environment, gender, or the very process of knowledge production, to more applied policy analysis and case studies. The book begins with a review of some of the founding texts and key theories that have analysed the interconnections between contemporary development models, environmental degradation and human wellbeing. The section covers from the more classical Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (Chapter 1), Carolyne Merchant's Death of Nature (Chapter 2) and Val Plumwood's Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (Chapter 3), to more intersectional texts such as Vandana Shiva's Women, Ecology and Development, Bina Agarwal's A Field of One's Own, or Haraway's Companion Species Manifesto. In Chapter 4 - Gender and Environment in the Global South, Bernadette P. Resurrección uses Feminist Political Ecology to analyse how gender, race, class, caste, culture and age shape women and men relations to the natural world, with particular attention to climate change and disaster risks. The chapter criticizes the WED (Women, Environment and Development) and WID (Women in Development) approaches for their tendency to essentialize and describe women through the unique and unquestioned category of the ‘disaster victim’ (Resurrección, pg 77) instead of concentrating on the analyses of context-specific power relations. She further argues that such a paradigm has led to ‘maledevelopment’, a concept described by Vandana Shiva to refer to ‘Western patriarchal development’ (Resurrección, pg 72) that privilege the masculine point of view and the favouring of techno-managerial solutions. Chapter 5, Ecofeminist Political Economy, focuses on an analysis of modern economies. Here, Mary Mellor criticizes that green proposals which ‘range from accommodation with the market economy —through regulation, market measures (e.g. carbon trading) and ecological taxes— to wholesale abandonment of modern economic structures for local subsistence production’ manage to save nature but are in fact gender blind. This blindness derives from two ideas. First, care labour is not taken into account in economic models since it does not fit ‘neither in the world of paid work nor [in] the world of self-motivated work and leisure’ (Mellor, pg 89). Second, it fails to estimate the gendered consequences of some of the market-based approaches to environmental problems. Mellor brings an example from Costa Rica, in which the monetary-compensation-led forest enclosure has triggered an increase in the number of women working in the sex industry in urban areas. Part II, Approaches presents a range of different intersecting disciplines and approaches that have worked on the gender-environment nexus. The editor has included disciplines such as anthropology, feminist political ecology, environmental justice, social ecology, queer ecology or care economy. Chapter 10, Gender and Environmental Justice, analyses the unequal distribution of environmental benefits and pollution across social groups. Initially developed in the 1960s in relation to environmental racism the discipline has increasingly recognized issues of class, gender, dis/ability, age, immigration status and geographical location/nationality. The chapter highlights the connections between pollution, gender and intersectionality through various examples, among which, the case of Inuit women in the Artic, whose breast milk had five to ten times higher concentrations of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) than women in Canada; the case of immigrant women in textile and industries in the US, constituting 50% and 70% of workers respectively, with increased levels of exposure to formaldehydes and arsenic, leading to high rates of respiratory illness. Part III, Politics, Policy and Practice, presents a critical examination of some environmental policies, from climate change agreements, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and the green economy to development programs dealing with agriculture, food security and demographic regulation. For example, in Good Green Jobs For Whom? (Chapter 21) Beate Littig presents a critique of the green economy by noting its overemphasis on technology development and jobs creation without evaluating the very basis of economic growth. Furthermore, Littig, exposes the unequal distribution of such green jobs, with the majority of women employed in those sectors in which ‘working conditions are poor and qualification requirements and income possibilities are low: trade, tourism, and to some extent, agriculture’ (Littig, pg 323). Littig claims that there is need for a ‘reassessment and redistribution of work, the preservation and equal sharing of common goods, and the escape from the Northern growth-driven economic imperative’ (pg 318—9). The collection concludes with part IV on Futures showing practical examples — not only of more environmentally sustainable but also of more socially just and gender transformative alternative development models. Author Giovanna Di Chiro closes the book with a critique of the concept of ‘(m)Anthropocene’, presented at Rio+20, for its invisibilization of the different stakes of responsibility and impacts of environmental degradation of different gendered, racialized and locally-situated communities in the planet (Chapter 33). This volume deserves particular recognition for its efforts to go beyond the essentialist strands of ecofeminism to include cutting-edge chapters exploring the critical connections between masculinities and environmental perceptions and degradation (see Chapters 11, 12, 16, 20, 22 and 33); the different conceptualizations and politics of transgender bodies (Chapters 17 and 32); or chapters reflecting on the boundaries between the human and the non-human, culture and nature, which have traditionally delimited the field of environmental studies (chapters 3, 6, 7, 15, 18 and 31). However, the handbook might have benefited from inclusion of more practical case studies and from greater attention to theories and standpoints from authors from the Global South – these might include important figures such as Bimbika Sijapati Basnett and her analysis of Southeast Asian forests and tree resources through intersectional feminism; the indigenous Mayan-Xinca activist Lorena Cabnal and her epistemological analysis of communitarian indigenous feminisms in Central America or groups such as the WoMin network (African Women Unite Against Destructive Resources Extraction). This book is an essential contribution not only for students and practitioners within Gender Studies and Environmental Studies, but also Development Studies and Postcolonial Studies. It calls for a new consciousness on the myriad of connections that exist between Nature and humans, and the importance from approaching these from the perspective of intersectional power relations. 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