Berkeley’s Carolyn Merchant explains what ecofeminism isHistorians in the News
tags: climate change, feminism, environmentalism, Carolyn Merchant, ecofeminism
Climate change is considered one of the most pressing yet divisive issues of this century, and though political in nature, it is indisputably scientific at its foundation. But there is a rising field of study that analyzes these environmental issues from an entirely different perspective: the sociological.
Environmental sociology seeks to understand the implications of the different meanings we assign to nature, investigating how these connections shape humans’ interaction with their immediate, nonhuman environments.
Carolyn Merchant, a professor of environmental history, philosophy and ethics, has researched and taught environmental sociology at UC Berkeley for the past three decades. She is well-established as one of the most influential contributors in the studies of ecofeminism and environmental history. Although Merchant will retire at the end of this semester, she leaves an impressive legacy at UC Berkeley and in the field of environmental sociology as a whole.
Merchant was inspired by two notable women whose works eventually shaped her career — Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,” and Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique.” These two pieces of literature — published in 1962 and 1963, respectively, while Merchant was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison — formed the foundation of ecofeminism in the 1970s.
Carson’s “Silent Spring” is often seen as the spark that ignited the modern environmental movement. It was one of the first literary works that identified humans’ undeniable and irreversible impact on the environment by linking the indiscriminate use of pesticides to detrimental health effects. In a work equally as historically pivotal, “The Feminine Mystique,” Friedan encouraged women to look outside of their traditional societal roles for fulfillment — a concept that would initiate the second-wave feminist movement.
Merchant, along with various other female academics, is responsible for integrating these two concepts — environmentalism and feminism — into a study known as ecofeminism. Ecofeminism identifies the exploitation of nature in connection with the oppression of women. In this field of study, Merchant’s contributions are as important as those of her idols. ...
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