More-than-human feminisms, and sea changes
In this planetary era some call the Anthropocene, it is clearer to us how the environment is in us, and we humans are fully in the environment. For too long nonhumans and those regarded as less-than-human, along with the very environment that sustains us, have been approached as either resource or mere background for Universal Man. Feminist theories have long been concerned with the violent impact of (normative) Universal Man on society and nature, a consequence of a modern phantasy divide between Nature and Culture. The present postnatural situation (a new normal) disrupts such modern figurations of thought, and begs new ones. With climate change, oceanic disturbance, habitat loss and rampant species extinction on the one hand, and new synthetic biologies and technobodies on the other, it asks sciences and arts for extradisciplinary responses. No longer can a division of labour be sustained, where science does naked facts, nonhumans and depict raw nature while humanities and social science does culture, ethics and politics. Spurred by more-than-human feminisms, thicker forms of situated knowing have already emerged. They come in response to the pressing need to a) alter and decolonize such dividing knowledge forms and to b) change the very ways we think, eat, and live with nonhumans in society. Sharing a Darwinian feeling for how everything is connected, critically, with a relational ethics of care and concern, more-than-human feminisms and postdisciplinary disciplines, have paved way for environmental humanities and other more-than-human forms of the posthumanities. What are the stakes and challenges in these transformations? Why do we need them? And what feminist genealogies gets recognized?
These are some queries I present in the first part of my key note talk as I paint these changes with broad brushstrokes. In the second part I approach the nonhuman forces of the ocean – creatively, curiously, critically and collaboratively – to ask from its recent anthropogenic sea changes: How can we bring science to arts (and vice versa), and more-than-human feminisms to the people? How can situated feminist knowledge practices catalyse social change, and even help reclaim the oceanic futures of this planet? Only partial answers will be provided.
Cecilia Åsberg did the first PhD in Gender Studies in Sweden. She is presently guest professor of STS, gender and environment at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and since 2015 Professor in Gender Studies (and chair of Gender, Nature, Culture) at Linköping University, Sweden. The founder and director of the Posthumanities Hub since 2008, and founding director of the Seed Box: An Environmental Humanities Collaboratory (2013-2017), she is an avid networker and also eg Fellow of the Rachel Carson Centre at Ludvig Maximilian University in Munich. Recent open access publications include for instance “A Sea Change in the Environmental Humanities” (2020) in Ecocene: Cappadocia Journal of Environmental Humanities; “Checking in with Deep Time” (2020) with Christina Fredengren, in Deterritorializing the Future (Open Humanities Press), editors Colin Sterling and Rodney Harrison; a special issue on toxic embodiment in journal Environmental Humanities (Duke UP), edited with Olga Cielemecka (2019), and the Springer anthology A Feminist Companion to the Posthumanities (2018), edited with Rosi Braidotti.
Anti-gender movements across Europe and beyond
In recent years, particularly in the last decade, numerous countries in Western and Eastern Europe, in Latin America and in some other parts of the world have been faced with a fierce opposition to what looked like an irreversible process of achievement of gender equality and sexual rights. Their target includes anything from marriage and gender equality, abortion, reproductive rights, sex education, gender mainstreaming, and transgender rights to antidiscrimination policies and even the notion of gender itself. The basic idea that connects all these actors is the notion of »gender theory« or »gender ideology«. The term functions as a multi-purpose enemy, which can be shaped in different ways in order to fit into the concrete goal of a political protest. »Gender« has become an all-inclusive and catch-all mobilising tool, used by various (religious) groups, political parties and even state establishments to prevent equality policies from being adopted and implemented.
These resistances – in many ways, but not all consistent with the populist wave across Europe and beyond – should not be understood merely as a continuation of previous forms of conservative opposition to gender equality, sexual rights and other human rights pertaining to sexual citizenship policy debates. They are rather new manifestations of resistance, shaped by new forms of organisation, new types of mobilisation and new discourses, which seek to address wider audiences and not only traditional circles of conservative groups.
This presentation will map out and explore the emergence, the content and the effects of the “gender ideology” (or “gender theory”) discourse. It will examine how an academic concept of gender became a mobilising tool for neo-conservative social movements and massive street demonstrations and how the concept of human rights, which has been used until recently by the proponents of gender and LGBT equality, is now being (ab)used by neo-conservative actors.
Roman Kuhar is professor of sociology at the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, and teaches courses on gender, sexuality, popular culture and everyday life. Currently he is the dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. He is the author of several books, among others Media Construction of Homosexuality, co-author (with A. Švab) of The Unbearable Comfort of Privacy and co-editor (with J. Takács) of Beyond the Pink Curtain: Everyday life of LGBT people in Eastern Europe and (with D. Paternotte) of Anti-gender Campaigns in Europe: mobilizing against equality (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017. Translation into French: Campagnes anti-genre en Europe: des mobilisations contre l’égalité, 2018, Presses Universitaires de Lyon). He is also one of the associate editors at Social Politics (Oxford University Press).
The Future of Gender: Rethinking the Sex/Gender Distinction
We are currently in the midst of an interesting dilemma in feminist pedagogy. The rationale of one of our core concepts, the sex/gender distinction, has been crumbling for decades. Yet we keep teaching it anyway as if its foundation were solid. This talk explores the mid twentieth-century invention of gender as a key term, showing how it emerged as a biocultural concept to stabilize the irregularities of biological life. We’ve frequently employed gender’s security work, while refusing its intertwining of biological and social worlds. I suggest we do the opposite. The early biocultural framing of gender can point to ways of reimagining sex/gender to capture how power acts on the body over time. Rethinking gender’s origins can help us to interrogate, rather than continue to perpetuate, gender’s biopolitical function. We can redeploy gender away from the goal of modulating and optimizing the population, and toward the radical aim of generating more modes of collective resistance.
Kyla Schuller is Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick and author of The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018). She is co-editor of special issues of Social Text and American Quarterly and she has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and Stanford Humanities Center. She is currently working on a general audience book titled The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism, forthcoming from Bold Type Books.
Plenary panelists: "The future of feminist research after Covid-19"
Mwenza Blell is currently a Rutherford Fellow affiliated to Health Data Research UK, a Newcastle University Academic Track Fellow, and a Grant Researcher at Tampere University. Her research draws from ethnography to examine intransigent and often invisible structures of injustice.
Andrea Ford is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society at the University of Edinburgh, and she received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2017. Her research is at the intersection of reproductive and environmental health / justice. Building out from her doctoral work on childbearing in California, she is starting a new project on endometriosis and endocrine disruption, with additional interests in hormones and periods. Her book manuscript, Near Birth: Embodied Futures in California, is under review.
Katariina Mäkinen currently works as a postdoctoral researcher in gender studies at Tampere University. Her research explores questions of gender, individualization, working life, capitalism, class and value. Her current research project on mom blogging traces emerging forms of gendered work in the context of the digital economy.
Sertaç Sehlikoglu is a social anthropologist specialised on issues related to subjectivity, gender, intimacy, and desire. Her work often focuses on intangible aspects of human subjectivity that enables humans to change and transform social life. Currently, she is a Senior Research Associate at the UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity and a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge. Previously, she held an Abdullah Mubarak al-Sabah Fellowship at Pembroke College (2016-2020) and Gibbs Travelling Fellowship at Newnham College (2019), Cambridge.