(2003) 'From The Culture of Matter to the Matter of Culture:
Feminist Explorations of Nature and Science'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 1, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/8/1/hird.html>
To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary
Received: 15/10/2002 Accepted: 26/2/2003 Published: 28/2/2003
How should explanations be possible when we turn everything into an image, our image! ( Nietzsche 1974: 172).
it must be possible to concede and affirm an array of 'materialities' that pertain to the body, that which is signified by the domains of biology, anatomy, physiology, hormonal and chemical composition, illness, weight, metabolism, life and death. None of this can be denied (Butler 1993: 66).
In the eyes of many human beings, life appears to be a unique and special phenomenon…This view betrays an 'organic chauvinism' that leads us to underestimate the vitality of the processes of self-organization in other spheres of reality…In many respects the circulation is what matters, not the particular forms that it causes to emerge…Our organic bodies are…nothing but temporary coagulations in these flows: we capture in our bodies a certain portion of the flow at birth, then release it again when we die and micro-organisms transform us into a new batch of raw materials' ( Delanda 1997: 103-104).
Because most of us are not familiar with the species, and with the diverse patterns of DNA mixing and reproduction they embody, our struggles to understand humans (and especially human dilemmas about 'sex', 'gender' and 'sexual orientation') are impoverished…Shouldn't a fish whose gonads can be first male, then female, help us to determine what constitutes 'male' and 'female'? Should an aphid fundatrix ('stem mother') inform our ideas about 'mother'? There on the rose bush, she neatly copies herself, depositing minuscule, sap-siphoning, genetically identical daughters. Aphids might lead us to ask not 'why do they clone?' but 'why don't we?' Shouldn't the long-term female homosexual pair bonding in certain species of gulls help define our views of successful parenting, and help [us] reflect on the intersection of social norms and biology? (Kinsman 2001: 197)
2 A Derridean analysis might suggest that the culture-nature dichotomy is a precondition to the functioning of social constructionist arguments. Soper sees the debate as not arguing whether the distinction exists or not, but whether it is a distinction of kind or degree (Soper 1995: 41). I like the double-meaning of Frank Capra's remark 'we never speak about nature without at the same time speaking about ourselves' (Capra 1975: 77).
3 One trajectory of the female epistemology argument suggests that the scientific approach to nature is itself fundamentally masculinist, and is one of the primary techniques deployed in the material oppression of women. For some (Bleir, 1984; Harding, 1986, 1991) this requires the fostering of distinctly feminine approach to materiality. For instance, one of the strongest proponents of a feminine epistemology argues the case through the materiality of fluids. Irigaray (1985) argues that masculinist science tends to favor solid objects in its descriptions of the world because solid objects give the appearance of 'things in themselves'. Fluids (and presumably gases) deny the fixity of solid objects, and introduce 'things' as processes into the field of nature. As Olkowski describes, 'if solids fail to adequately account for fluidity as a physical reality, then there must be something physically real, and that 'thing' must be fluidity, which…is not a process but a thing' (Olkowski 2000: 78). Moreover, because fluids deny the characterization of substances or universals, they demonstrate a logic outside of the universalization of masculinist logic. For Irigaray, the potential of this alternate logic, non-logic as it were, is the potential of a feminine epistemology. Others (Stengers, 1997, 2000) reject any notion of a 'feminine science' and criticize the current feminist focus on the culture of matter as the predominant intervention into scientific enquiry (Wilson, 1996, 2000).
4 I thank Jack Veugelers for re-directing my attention to deBeauvoir's early work on biology.
5 Many minerals are produced in and by life, such as calcium carbonate, making the distinction between minerals and animals problematic (Margulis and Sagan, 1995: 29).
6 Our interpretation of these non-human technologies may depend upon the extent to which non-human living matter is accorded agency. Humans tend to think of agency as requiring intentionality born of subjectivity, but if we use Karen Barad's definition of 'agency as an enactment rather than something someone has' (Barad 1998: 112) we get a different picture. To deny all forms of non-human matter agency reminds me of Descartes's humanocentric claim that dogs do not suffer pain.
7 Lewis Thomas puts it more directly: from the point of view of the mitochrondria in our bodies (which occupy as much volume in themselves as the rest of us), we 'could be taken for a very large, motile colony of respiring bacteria, operating a complex system of nuclei, microtubules, and neurons for the pleasure and sustenance of their families, and running, at the moment, a typewriter' (Thomas 1974: 72).
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