In critical theory, ecology is a constitutive concept that takes as a starting point the insight of ecological science, which can be expressed, with Bateson as "the unit of survival is organism plus environment" (1972, p. 489). Ecology in a materialist key inhabits various fields, and the term broadly stands for analyses and practices that question the boundaries of embodiment and their entwinement with environments, and also, in an extended sense, approaches that take a radical relational ontology, especially in science, media, arts. Due to the complexity and nomadic quality of the term, rather than a survey, this piece indicates a specific territory that ecological thought and practice holds in a queer-feminist post-/decolonial anti-imperialist ethos: ecology as minoritarian ethico-politics. This is also a tracing of a minor genealogy of the concept, resisting all the myriad ways it is mobilised in greenwashing and (neo)liberal theories and social practices, to figure its meaning for new materialism and what new materialism means to it.
Ecology is a troubled word that speaks of a troubled world. According to Donald Worster, since its scientific origin in the 19th century, ecology has implied two co-present but rather different views of nature – 'arcadian,' connected with Romanticism, and 'imperialistic' (Worster, 1994, p. 3-55): nature as an order to be preserved, or to be managed by instrumental reason. The proximity of the concept to nature puts it in relation with a longer tradition of tension between "nurturing and domination metaphors" of nature (Merchant, 1980, p. 3). In a similar fashion to this tension at the root of nature, traditionally pictured as something 'beyond yonder' (Morton, 2007), but also as something within ('human nature'), ecology brings the trouble back home (in a diametrically opposite move from the capitalist logic of 'externality'). Ecology surfaces a specific type of violence at the heart of modernity based on the 'logic of dualism' or colonisation (Plumwood, 1993), but also patterns of care that do not fit within that worlding project. Ecology, counter-intuitively then, rather than the study of 'nature', in fact transgresses modern dualist hierarchy, and enacts, methodologically and ethico-politically, entanglements that Haraway (2003) calls 'naturecultures', it speaks of 'naturalcultural ecologies' (Lorenz-Meyer et al.: 2015).
Genealogically, the term stems from the Greek word oikos, which means 'economy', and, more pertinently for us, 'household' or 'housekeeping' (Pepper, 1996, p. 184). According to Stauffer, Ernst Haeckel, the German naturalist generally credited as the inventor of ecological science, developed his understanding from the terms 'economy of nature' and 'polity of nature' used by Darwin in The Origin of Species. Haeckel, in his 1866 text where the word is first clearly defined, speaks of evolution as "the housekeeping relations of organisms." (quoted in Stauffer, 1957, p. 141). This economical aspect has been extensively discussed in literature, but the reference to 'housekeeping' reveals the minor tradition which needs foregrounding as it puts the first meaning under strain. At first sight it seems to some extent intuitive to imagine ecology as a science of relations between organisms or species understood as a household economy, but if we refer to the feminist autonomist analysis, 'housekeeping relations' profoundly subvert the terms of politics and ecology by revealing the free and unpaid labour of reproduction. Ecology by its double reference to nature but also the household disrupts the very logic that founds it.
Home, as Jean-François Lyotard in his deconstruction of Oikos, argues, is not "the place of safety. The oikos is above all the place of tragedy" (1989, p. 97). Home, and the family it is based on, is a place of the oikeoin, of the 'secluded' under the control of the master of the household, domus. Ecology thus refers to the secluded that are inside: "an otherness that is not an Umwelt [environment] at all, but this otherness in the core of the apparatus" [my emphasis] (ibid., p. 100). Ecology talks about what is captured in the logic of domination exercised by the patriarchal and 'carno-phallogocentric' power relations (Derrida, 2008). Ecology as a minor science, philosophy and praxis – a discourse: "… of the thing that has not become public, that has not become communicational, that has not become systemic, and that can never become any of these things. ... [a logos] which is preoccupied, in the full sense of "pre-occupied" with listening to and seeking for what is secluded, oikeion." (ibid., p. 105).
Ecology is thus about becoming "(pre-)occupied" by "anotherness," Deleuze's 'wholly otherness' (Dolphijn, 2014), which, is not simply the 'foreigner.' Anotherness which dwells within the very realm of (the dominion of) oikos; a home where the secludedare/have been women, slaves, animals, plants, nonstandard and differently abled bodies that do not get a voice in the logos. Ecology is thus a 'discourse of the secluded' (Lyotard, 1989). Crucially, as Gayatri Spivak teaches (1988), subaltern (earth) others do not necessarily strive for entering the logos, as it cannot represent or comprehend them. Ecology in a minoritarian key is about difference, not in the sense of the outside, of the environment 'out there' (that 'we' might 'let in'), but, to speak with the radical black tradition, of the secluded inside or the "outsider within" (Hill Collins, 1986), the realm of "the undercommons" (Harney & Moten, 2013).
'House' even in its most expansive sense – the 'blue marble' image – is more-than-human, and housekeeping indicates arts and efforts of maintenance that is of a "symbiogenetic" (Margulis & Sagan, 1995) and "sympoetic" (Haraway, 2016), rather than of a competitive nature. Ecology then transgresses the binaries dear to the logic of colonisation: human – nonhuman, mind – matter, but also city – countryside, nomos – physis, citizen – foreigner, friend – enemy, order – wilderness etc. The founding fathers of ecology did not imagine 'home' on the above terms, even through the interstices of its arcadian and imperialistic formulations, or dare to imagine an ecology that talks of the bodies that do not fit: hybrids, cyborgs, monsters,others, "earth others" (Plumwood, 1993).
The ethico-political stakes of ecology as minoritarian practice can be painted from many perspectives, here we can take up Deleuze and Guattari's molecular politics, for its new materialist relevance. In Deleuze and Guattari, majority and minority are not questions of quantity, they refer to (ab)normality from "the constant or standard" in a given apparatus. Against the norm of "average adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking a standard language" (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 105), "women, children, but also animals, plants, and molecules, are minoritarian" (ibid.: 291). Earth itself is "minoritised" (Connolly, 2013, p. 48). These various bodies and relations that they sustain and that sustain them, they live and die on terms that only partially fit in the hegemonic logic of dualism. Deleuze and Guattari invoke a tactics of "becoming-minor" as a mode of flight away from the binaries, a move that, as Braidotti insists (2002, p. 84) needs to be complemented with the politics of location and intersectional analysis. Coupled to this, we must add Guattari's (2000; 1995) subsequent transposition of 'transversality' from psychoanalysis into a domain of 'general ecology', thereby creating a territory of practice that entangles mental, social and environmental ecologies in a molecular (that is, minor) key. Another lineage that developed from Guattari's and Deleuze's joint work of interest for minoritarian ethico-politics, is ecology of affect (e.g. Massumi, 2015).
This brings us to ecology in new materialist discourse, which is rooted in non-normativity and politics of difference. We see it materialise in 'queer ecology' (Mortimer-Sandilands & Erickson, 2010), transcorporeal toxicity (Alaimo, 2010; Chen, 2012), disability and crip environmental studies (Ray & Sibara, 2017), critical analyses of animal and vegetal queerness (Sandilands, 2017), as well as nonlife (Barad, 2012; 2015; Cohen, 2015). Methodologically, this kind of ecology relates to Rosi Braidotti's affirmative understanding of difference (2011), and posthuman/ist intersectionality (Górska, 2016) and the ethico-onto-epistemology of entanglement (Barad, 2007). Importantly, it is in regenerative continuity with earlier ecofeminist analyses (Kings, 2017) as well as feminisms of social reproduction (e.g. Federici, 2004; 2010). Ecology in feminist (new) materialist terms, is a methodology, concern and positioning that troubles categories, it moves transversally and post-disciplinarily (Neimanis, Åsberg & Hédren, 2015, p. 86-88). Ecology as minoritarian praxis is not about becoming stronger, (selective) competition or even survival, it is about resisting power as hierarchy (power-over), staying (with the) weakness; associating in queer non-identity and multiple belongings, "cyborg resilience" as "ongoing differentation and regeneration" (Åsberg, 2014), vulnerability that affirmatively means multispecies openness, care and debility that engender differential affectivity and an "ecology of sensation" (Hickey-Moody, 2015).
In the realm of environmental practice, the intersectionality of the ecology of the secluded is testified by the multiplying conjunctions between climate justice and minority struggles across the world. Communities in the global South, as well as the indigenous North, which have least contributed to fossil fuel emissions, are now disparately more exposed to and vulnerable to the rapid and 'slow violence' of climate change and environmental devastation (Nixon, 2013; Tuana, 2008; Cuomo & Tuana, 2014; Klein, 2014; Pilar & Wilson, 2017). Oikeion have always been multitudes that involve many forms of life and nonlife, these formations are now of a planetary scale. A practice of transgressing axiomatics of normalisation, family, species-being, racialisation, life-nonlife and other hierarchical classifications is ecology taken back from its majoritarian uses, capitalist but also biological as well as geological determinisms (as in some uses of the anthropocene). Staying true to the minoritarian ethico-politics however reveals several areas of concern for new materialist ecology. Peta Hinton, Tara Mehrabi and Josef Barla (2015) point at the open problematics of the 'white episteme' of new materialism, and the necessity to engage in working out the 'missing links', and, eventually to engage in 'entanglement' with post- and decolonial discourses, as well as critical race and migration studies. As pointed out in their position paper, some of the areas of concern have to do with specifically ecological problems such as 'politics of matter' and 'postcolonial animal' as well as 'non/human' (see, also: Chen & Luciano, 2015). Another crucial challenge lies in becoming response-able to the US-/Euro-centrism of new materialism, and entering careful conversation and solidarity with indigenous ontologies and worldings, lest of reproducing new modes of power/knowledge colonialism (Todd, 2016). As Kim TallBear states, "indigenous peoples have never forgotten that nonhumans are agential beings engaged in social relations that profoundly shape human lives" (2015: 234). Minoritarian ecology thus refers to shared conversations and practices of worlding in accountability and responsibility with/in the 'pluriverse' (Mignolo, 2013).
Fig. 1. Sirogojno. mirko nikolić, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
Fig. 2. counting live stock(s). mirko nikolić, Divna Jovanović, Hans de Wolf, Miladin Dabović, Mitar Ćaldović, Radmila Radosavljević, sheep, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
Fig. 3. counting live stock(s). mirko nikolić, Divna Jovanović, Hans de Wolf, Miladin Dabović, Mitar Ćaldović, Radmila Radosavljević, sheep, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
Synonyms: natureculture, ethico-politics of care, pluriverse, sympoiesis, becoming-minor, politics of difference, radical hospitality, pluriversal
Antonyms: dualism, logic of colonisation, hyperseparation, backgrounding, incorporation, instrumentalisation, capitalism, imperialism, family, universal, monoculture, carnophallogocentrism
Alaimo, S. (2010). Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham; London: Duke University Press.
Barad, K. (2012). Nature's queer performativity. Kvinder, Køn & Forskning, 1–2, 25–53.
Barad, K. (2015). Transmaterialities: Trans*/Matter/Realities and Queer Political Imaginings. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 21(2–3), 387–422.
Braidotti, R. (2002). Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Published by Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers.
Braidotti, R. (2011). Nomadic Theory: The Portable Rosi Braidotti. New York: Columbia University Press.
Chen, M. Y. (2012). Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Chen, M.Y. & Luciano, D. [eds.] (2015) Theorizing Queer Inhumanisms. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 21 (2-3), 209-248.
Cohen, J. J. (2015). Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman. Minneapolis, MN; London: University of Minnesota Press.
Collins, P. H. (1986). Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought. Social Problems, 33(6), S14–S32.
Connolly, W. E. (2013). The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Cuomo, C. J., Tuana, N., & (eds.). (2014). Special Issue: Climate Change. Hypatia, 29(3), 533–719.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What is Philosophy? New York City: Columbia University Press.
Derrida, J. (2008). The Animal That Therefore I Am. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.
Dolphijn, R. (2014). The Revelation of a World that was Always Already There: The Creative Act as an Occupation. In R. Braidotti & R. Dolphijn (Eds.), This Deleuzian Century: Art, Activism, Life. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill.
Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York; London: Autonomedia.
Federici, S. (2010). Feminism And the Politics of the Commons. In Craig Hughes, Stevie Peace and Kevin Van Meter for the Team Colors Collective, Uses of a WorldWind, Movement, Movements, and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States. Oakland. Accessible at: http://www.commoner.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/federici-feminism-and-the-politics-of-commons.pdf.
Górska, M. (2016). Breathing Matters: Feminist Intersectional Politics of Vulnerability. Linköping University.
Guattari, F. (1995). Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Guattari, F. (2000). The Three Ecologies. London; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.
Haraway, D. J. (2003). The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.
Harney, S., & Moten, F. (2013). The undercommons : fugitive planning & black study. Wivenhoe; New York; Port Watson: Minor Compositions.
Hickey-Moody, A. (2015) Slow life and ecologies of sensation. Feminist review, 111, 140-148.
Hinton, P., Mehrabi, T., Barla, J. (2015) New materialisms/New colonialisms. Position paper of Working Group 2, COST Action IS1307 New Materialism. Available at http://newmaterialism.eu/content/5-working-groups/2-working-group-2/position-papers/subgroup-position-paper-\_-new-materialisms\_new-colonialisms.pdf
Kings, A. E. (2017). Intersectionality and the Changing Face of Ecofeminism. Ethics and the Environment, 22(1), 63–87.
Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. London: Allen Lane.
Lorenz-Meyer, D., Åsberg, C., Fredengren, C., Sõrmus, M., Treusch, P., Vehviläinen, M., Zekany, E. & Žeková, L. (2015) Anthropocene Ecologies: Biotechnoecological Relationalities in Late Capitalism. Position paper of Working Group 2, COST Action IS1307 New Materialism. Available at http://newmaterialism.eu/content/5-working-groups/2-working-group-2/position-papers/anthropocene-ecologies-15.12.pdf
Lyotard, J.-F. (1993). Oikos. In Political Writings. Translated by Bill Readings with Kevin Paul Geiman. London: UCL Press, 96-107.
Massumi, B. (2015) Politics of Affect. Cambridge; Malden: Polity Press.
Merchant, C. (1980). The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Mignolo, W. (2013). On Pluriversality. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from http://waltermignolo.com/on-pluriversality/
Morton, T. (2007). Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Neimanis, A., Åsberg, C., & Hedrén, J. (2015). Four Problems, Four Directions for Environmental Humanities: Toward Critical Posthumanities for the Anthropocene. Ethics & the Environment, 20(1), 67–97.
Nixon, R. (2013). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Pepper, D. (1996). Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction. London; New York: Routledge.
Pilar, P., & Wilson, A. (2017). Idle No More: Grounding the Corrientes of Hemispheric Resistencia. In A. Nangwaya & M. Truscello (Eds.), Why Don't the Poor Rise Up?: Organizing the Twenty-First Century Resistance. Chico: AK Press.
Plumwood, V. (1993). Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London; New York: Routledge.
Ray, S. J., & Sibara, J. [eds.] (2017). Disability Studies and the Environmental Humanities: Toward an Eco-Crip Theory. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Sandilands, C. (2017). Fear of a Queer Plant? GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 23(3), 419–429.
Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the Subaltern Speak? In L. Grossber & C. Nelson (Eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (pp. 271–313). Urbana: University of Illinois.
TallBear, K. (2015) An indigenous reflection on working beyond the human/not human. In Chen, M.Y. & Luciano [eds.], Theorizing Queer Inhumanisms. GLQ, 21 (2-3), 230-235.
Todd, Z. (2016). An Indigenous Feminist's take on the Ontological Turn: "ontology" is just another word for colonialism. Journal of Historical Sociology, 29(1), 4–22.
Tsing, A. L. (2013). More-than-Human Sociality: A Call for Critical Description. In Anthropology and Nature (pp. 27–42). New York, NY; Abingdon: Routledge.
Tuana, N. (2008). Viscous porosity: Witnessing Katrina. In S. Alaimo & S. J. Hekman (Eds.), Material Feminisms (pp. 188–213). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Stauffer, R. C. (1957). Haeckel, Darwin, and ecology. Quarterly Review of Biology, 32, 138–144.
Worster, D. (1990). The Ecology of Order and Chaos. Environmental History Review, 14(1/2), 1–18.
Worster, D. (1994). Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas. Cambridge; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Åsberg, C. (2014). Resilience Is Cyborg: Feminist Clues to a Post-Disciplinary Environmental Humanities of Critique and Creativity. Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, 1(1), 12–14.
COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.
Here you will find background material, current activities, calls for papers, working group information, and project outputs.
With the changing of societies on local, national and international scales owing to economic, ecological, political and technological developments and crises, a reorganized academic landscape can be observed to be emerging. Scholarship strives to become increasingly interdisciplinary in order to grasp and examine the unfolding complexity of ongoing ecological, socio-cultural and politico-economic changes. Additionally, academics forge... Read more or find out Who's Who
Information relating to activities undertaken, including conferences, training schools, short-term scientific missions, and annual meetings, are archived here.
Working Groups focus on four key areas of research
Working Group One
Genealogies of New Materialisms; examines and intervenes in canonization processes by compiling a web-based bibliography, coordinating the OST 068/13 8 EN... Read more
Working Group Two
New Materialisms on the Crossroads of the Natural and Human Sciences; seeks to develop new materialisms at the boundaries of the human and natural sciences. The group focuses on how European new materialisms can rework the ‘Two Cultures' gap... Read more
Working Group Three
New Materialisms Embracing the Creative Arts; brings together European researchers, artists, museum professionals, and other activists with a keen interest in the material... Read more
Working Group Four
New Materialisms Tackling Economical and Identity – Political Crises and Organizational Experiments... Read more
The Almanac comprises contributions from members of working groups, and participants in related activities, delineating key terms, more esoteric neologisms, and short provocations. Read more
New Materialism —
Networking European Scholarship on 'How matter comes to matter’
Website by Second Cousins