Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Why feminist analysis, why reskilling, why resilience, why Transition Culture?

I have long been fascinated with all things geography whilst more lately, the Transition movement has grabbed my interest as I try to grapple with dilemmas of how to live  reasonably ethically:- in accordance with my own needs, the needs of others and the ecological needs of our planet. I have had phases of trying to live in  accordance with the  needs of the planet, which resulted in me badly neglecting my own needs. These days I meet many of my own needs yet, of course, my eco-footprint has rocketed as I trash the planet with gay abandon. Hmm, tricky stuff.

My present research focuses on resilience, (a cornerstone of the Transition ethos), reskilling and now, I am incorporating feminist theory to my work. Resilience as a concept first emerged in the 1970s and was used by ecologists to describe eco-systems which were resilient to external shocks and stress events. A resilient ecosystem was seen to have the ability to be robust, to weather the storms whilst an un-resilient ecosystem would collapse in the face of external shocks. More recently, resilience has been broadened to the arena of socio-ecological systems. The term could be applied to a whole modern day community. The Transition movement- Transition Culture, Transition Towns, whatever you want to call it (the name seemingly evolving and changing)  draws from ecological resilience theory (amongst others) to help envision socio-economic and socio-ecological systems which might be resilient as we face coming threats such as climate change, economic upheavals and peak oil (thus subsequent energy descent).

Reskilling is touted as being an excellent resilience building activity- suits me fine, I adore crafting! Reskilling could involve learning to knit, sew ones own clothes, growing vegetables, mending and making tools, constructing a home solar energy system or building a house with straw bales. I worked with a Welsh Transition Town and noticed that the more traditionally feminine reskilling activities were not receiving as much respect as more masculine, or more gender neutral activities, such as growing vegetables or gaining proficiency with building skills. This does not surprise Stoller, author of Stitch 'n Bitch, who realised that knitting has oft been disregarded since the early days of feminism when women were told they were made for greater things than  knitting and housework. More lately, Stoller reflects that, in fact, those who look down on knitting are actually being anti-feminist as their stance shows they give more respect to activities traditionally done by men than those traditionally carried out by women. (Happily she has just bought out a new knitting book for men- Son of Stitch 'n Bitch.)

I also saw there were cultural issues at play- almost tearing the Transition initiative apart, as clearly, some members of the group felt un-heard, un-represented or excluded. There was at the time little discussion of these gender and cultural issues and as I was a physical geographer at the time, I had little theory with which to try to understand what was going on. I was upset by these events yet also very excited- there was obviously something big going on, awaiting closer inspection. This is where the feminist analysis comes into play- not only do some feminist scholars believe that one cannot understand our current environmental problems without assessing the masculinist culture which caused the problems in the first place but also, modern day feminism focuses on encompassing all races, cultures, backgrounds and sexual orientations, thus it addresses cultural issues as well. I am now enthusiastically researching feminist analysis as a tool for my research.

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