Vandana Shiva and Chipko (was: Re: newbie on Participatory Economics)

Frances Bolton (PHI) fbolton at
Tue Jul 21 10:33:08 PDT 1998

First of all, thanks to Doug for that amusing little blind item. Shiva is my least favorite of the bioregional/anti-development folks, but I never would have guessed she'd only fly first class. With Mat, I'm willing to allow her those 1st class flights -- she does travel alot.

That said, I there are serious problems with her work, particularly the stuff she's done on Chipko. Right now I'm reading her book *Biopiracy*--I'm doing a larger thing on biotechnologies. Leaping out at me at the bit I've read in this recent book is, as Louis points out, is her lack of economic analysis. There is an assumption, naive, I think, that native peoples will always distribute material goods justly. This is an odd claim to make about someplace like rural India, where the caste system makes inevitable the inequitable distribution of goods.

But I want to address at some greater length her work on the Chipko movement. For those who don't know what the Chipko movment was, it was a "grassroots" movment in rural India (the Garwhali region, near Tibet) that protested central governmental intrference in the use of local resources--primarily trees. There were serious environmental repercussions to the govt auctioning off the trees--increased flooding ad soil erosion, primarily. But Shiva portrays Chipko as being a biocentric proto-ecofeminist movement whose primary concern was to preserve the ecological integrity of the garwhali forests. She writes about how the movment was led by women, and the importance of women's insights about forest ecology. She suggests that the cultural integrity of the Garwhali villages and the ecological integrity of the forests co-exist, both depend upon women's knowledge. Shiva writes about the Ghandian roots of Chipko, as well as the importance of folk Hinduism.

Missing in Shiva's analysis and celebration is any recognition that the division of labor in ther egion are grossly inequitable, that women are seen as beasts of burden.Also missing from her analysis is a recognition that the forests were used only by the local elites. Also missing is the recognition that celebrating local tradition simply serves to solidify and reproduce class and caste inequalities. Shiva spread a myth about Chipko and its importance for environmentalists, instead of drawing attention to the reality of life in the Himalayas and the economic needs of the people living there. For Garwhali elites, Chiko was a public relations ploythat ensured they would be able to maintain their monopoly over profitable forest extraction.


On Tue, 21 Jul 1998, Louis Proyect wrote:
> Actually, I have stepped back from my attack on Vandana Shiva on this
> particular score and have actually quarreled a little with Doug
> subsequently about the relevance of how she gets around. The problem with
> green greens is not how they personally live or conduct their business, but
> their political analysis. Shiva is an anti-Marxist, as is Sale. This is bad
> news. They are basically utopian in their approach to politics, but of a
> different sort than Hahnel-Albert. Their utopianism revolves around the
> notion of bioregionalist or subsistence farming communities that disavow
> industrialism. When the forces of capital accumulation conspire to
> overwhelm every pastoral social institution, it seems foolish to prescribe
> pastoralism as a solution. How she gets around or what restaurants
> Kirkpatrick Sale dines at seems immaterial in the context of the broader
> political issues.
> Louis Proyect
> (

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