Women in Philosophy: Vandana Shiva

A couple of days late, but worth the wait… my last post for Women’s History month: Indian physicist, feminist, philosopher Vandana Shiva!


I was first introduced to Shiva’s work as an undergrad studying agrarian philosophies. I was taking a seminar with my advisor, Jon Jensen, and we were studying a lot of American agrarian thinkers, Wendell Berry in particular. Given my interest in philosophy of agriculture, environmental ethics, and feminism, he introduced me to Vandana Shiva’s work in ecofeminism and the book Staying Alive (2002) which had recently been published. Then we had the opportunity to hear Shiva give a talk at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN. Shiva was provocative and charismatic, and while I didn’t agree with all of her ideas (no good philosopher would, right?) I came away knowing that I would revisit her work in the future.

I consulted Shiva’s work during my Master’s research when I began to put ecological feminist theories and ideas about nonviolent direct action into conversation. Shiva participated in and wrote about the well-known Chipko movement in which Indian women undertook nonviolent collective action to protect forests. (“Chipko” translates into “tree hugger,” which is one of the actions that the women did as a part of their protection efforts.) The articulation of the reliance of local communities on the forests, and of local women’s particular knowledge of maintaining the health of the forests was an attractive model for ecological feminists. Then for my dissertation work, I consulted Shiva’s thinking on gender and agriculture, and food sovereignty. Since the 1990s, Shiva has been a leading voice of seed sovereignty as a radical response to the patent system. She founded Navdanya, a women-centered network of seed keepers and food producers committed to the protection of biological and cultural diversity and the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge. Navdanya presents its seed saving, educational programs, and advocacy work as satyagraha, or Gandhian nonviolent resistance. Shiva writes,

“The seed has become the site and symbol of freedom in an age of manipulation and monopoly of its diversity. It plays the role of Gandhi’s spinning wheel in this period of neocolonization through free trade. The charkha (spinning wheel) became an important symbol of freedom because it was small; it could come alive as a sign of resistance and creativity in the smallest of huts and poorest of families” (Shiva, Monocultures of the Mind).

For Shiva, dominant knowledge systems generalize from a particular privileged perspective, encouraging universalizing or “monocultural” thinking. When supported by social power and capital, “monocultures of the mind” make diversity disappear, from perception and consequently from the world. Shiva’s Earth Democracy (2005) envisions a kind self-determination and independence of living economies and living cultures that yet remain ever aware of their connections and ecological entanglements. Earth Democracy is inclusive of the diversity of human and nonhuman life on earth while recognizing the kinship and interdependence of the earth’s inhabitants on one another.

To hear a little bit of Shiva for yourself, take a look at this short video.

For Shiva talking a little bit about the Chipko movement, watch this.

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