Relationality and dwelling: eco before techne
To be in common is elemental to relationship. It is the happening of the singular plural. Feminist, decolonial and ecological writing mobilises discussions of relationality towards a relational-ontology: lived, experienced, socially environmentally dynamic ethical being. Rosi Braidotti writes of‘ethics of affirmation’ as an ‘eco-philosophy of multiple belongings for subjects constituted in and by multiplicity’ (Braidotti 2013, 144). While the terminology and entry into discussing ethics is different from my approach through ecotechnics, Braidotti is similarly concerned with that which is experienced together, in an affirmative (another word for ‘productive’ without the connotations of market productivity and quantification) ecology of experience (i.e. what is happening). Braidotti writes towards an ethical relation that looks to joint projects and activities to affirm a positive becoming (2013, 190). Her approach to critical theory affirms a non-essential vitalism concerning multiple ecologies of belonging, similar to being singular plural. Braidotti refers to a subject that is post-anthropocentric, a subject that is relational and non-unitary but also distanced from assumptions of universal value (2013, 188).
Importantly, Braidotti’s explication of the PostHuman, and its redefinition of critical thought, projects an aspirational affirmative community, ‘combining ethical values with the well-being of an enlarged sense of community’ (2013, 190). Unlike the originary possibility of ‘eco’, experienced each and every time in the singular plural, Braidotti prescribes an ideal form for the future: a better affirmative future in ethical community. While I do not discredit this as an important project in its pursuit of a different way of relating from within a system of forms, ecotechnics does not proffer an alternative form to which we can aspire. Ecotechnics has only the irrefutable present, happening. Thus, any suggestion stemming from ecotechnics concerns our onto-epistemological perspective: modes of thought concerning our being singular plural and from this, the world. Ecotechnical being is not in itself a self-fulfilling entity. Rather this term, with my approach, tries to access being singular plural as that which is happening in circulation with techne (capital) and ecologies of belonging and becoming. Being is paradoxically within itself as a singular being yet opposed to the individuality of being that denies interdependence with a plurality of other beings. In other words, this being is what other theorists have identified as an ongoing condition of life where the experience of becoming is an actual praxis, embodied and embedded but ‘firmly located somewhere according to the radical immanence of the politics of location’ (Braidotti 2013, 188). Being is relational, through and through.
Within this relationality a dwelling is happening: eco. The law of the home is uncanny, unhomely or homeless, insofar as it is tracing (in motion) the limit of our being in relation (singular plural) with the entirety' of socio-ecology that sustains and maintains where we, beings, dwell. Ecology', economy and ecosociality share dwelling — oikos — where ecology nurtures possibility and economy determines dwelling. Ecosociality involves ‘world creation’ as the totality of resonance in lived experience in the circulation of sense. This world creation is happening whether we pay attention to it or not. Yet to pay' attention to ecology and environmental change (i.e. crisis) is to pay attention to the crisis of our sociality'. Thus, to draw out ecosociality undermines formed, defined categories in law and nationhood. Ecosociality is therefore not democratisation or counter-cultural organisation because it is not about adhering to, or using, the institutions of politics and government either to join or oppose. Equally, ecosociality is not ecological conservationism. Conserving an ecology' ‘out there’ or an environment ‘there’ suggests that we are external to ecological circulation, able to protect ‘it’ as if it were distinct from ‘us’. The being singular plural is everything, including and not limited to, nature.
The politics of ecotechnics are radically' different from politics understood as ‘management of production, exchange and growth’ (Morin 2012, 104). Ecotechnics defamiliarises the normative vision of self and others. The defamiliarisation works to shatter ‘the flat repetition of the protocols of institutional reason’ (Braidotti 2013, 169), where ‘institutional reason’ is what conditions exclusive categories of belonging and filters experiences of precarious work through discourses of migration. Institutional reason relegates individuals into an ambiguous category of ‘migrant’ that functions in support of a neoliberal market economic model. According to the dominant model, guided by this institutional reason, capitalism — capital accumulation and economic growth -is proliferated through its power to define value. Value is understood as proliferating an infinity' of ends (i.e. accumulation). Accordingly, the end to be reached is an endless increase imagined through uninhibited market growth. Economic growth of this kind, and the economic market model, espouses capital as the end in and of itself. As such, capital is reinforced as if it were the only way' to participate in the economy'. Yet economy' (not the economy) can be much more than capital accumulation.
Rethinking work and movement (citizenship) from ‘the law of the home’ or eco-nomos involves disentangling labour from the ‘legal conception of work’ (Routh 2018, 31; Supiot 1996, 605). According to Routh, this means recognising the socio-ecological context of work. Currently, labour law functions within a system that understands work as a ‘market-based exchange relationship aimed at economic productivity'’ (Routh 2018, 31), or, a ‘private market productivity framework’ (Routh 2018, 32). However work can be equally understood for its activity that is part of the ecology' sustaining human life and nonhuman nature as human labour contributes to the ecological circulation of the world (Routh 2018, 31). Zbyszewska calls this the ‘socio-ecological scope for labour law’ (2018, 11). As the law of the home, economy surpasses discussions of work and labour within a capitalist market economy. The ‘home’, deconstructed as a home-as-unhomeliness, leads us to question (as many feminist scholars have argued for years, see Zbyszewska 2018; Federici 2012; Salleh 2009; Gibson-Graham 1996; Picchio 1992): what is valued? How do ‘we’ attribute and assign value? In order for labour to be disentangled from its legal conception, what ‘we’ value must be carefully interrogated.
Over 20 years ago, Sandra Fredman argued that an ‘ethic of responsibility’ was needed to change the way law and economy privilege male workers (and their jobs) over traditionally ‘women’s work’ and women’s labour (Fredman 1998). An ethic of responsibility, however, will never circulate within a system that aspires towards progress, capital accumulation and market growth. Substituting women’s labour into the market economic system, i.e. commodifying domestic work and care work, will not cause this work to be equally valued or of market worth to traditional, ego-logical, productivity-based labour. In fact, rather than care work increasing in value, other traditional labour sectors have become increasingly precarious and devalued. For example, skills-based trades acquired through apprenticeships and long-term relationships of knowledge exchange and learning (Standing 2011). The systemic logic of capitalism (primitive accumulation) has reinforced difference through gender oppression, environmental destruction and colonial (racial, ethnic) violence (Oksala 2018, 220, see also Chapter 3). As Mies (2014) emphasises, capitalist exploitation of waged labour is the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg for Mies is women’s unpaid work, reproduction, ‘work in the colonies’ and resource extraction from the earth: labour and being that cannot be fully incorporated into the capital circulation of the market because it cannot be fully calculated. Their non-incorporation is why they continue to be undervalued (Oksala 2018, 230; see Mies 2014). Salleh elaborates,
what is rarely understood, even by thinking people, is how the entire edifice of international capital ultimately rests on the material regeneration of global thermodynamic cycles by reproductive labor power. Child-care, elder care, forest nurture - by such functions, housewives or indigenes catalyse not exchange value, not use value, but a ‘metabolic
Labour law - seen as regulatory’ tool in market-based exchange relation (Routh 2018, 44). The exclusion of‘responsible’ labour of workers such as waste pickers, care workers leads Routh to conclude that ecological and social contributions not picked up by ‘legal apparatus’ (Routh 2018, 46).
value form* that flows into and sustains the essential bio-infrastructure of the capitalist system.
In the 1970s, the ‘Wages for Housework’campaign (1972) sought to illustrate the ‘immense amount of unpaid labor’ that although ‘not built exclusively or primarily on contractual relations’ has been obscured by the focus on the wage relation in labour/employment law, policies and labour movements. Federici illuminated how ‘the wage relation hides the unpaid, slave-like nature of so much of the work upon which capital accumulation is premised’ (Federici 2008). By demanding wages and attributing monetary value to housework, the Wages for Housework campaign sought to speak the language of capitalism back to capitalism. This is not dissimilar to the economic argument against climate change, which demonstrates the economic costs and losses incurred by climate change (see Routh 2018, 38; Stern 2006). However, as explored in Chapter 3, Federici herself acknowledges that ‘there are serious limits to the extent to which reproductive work can be reduced or reorganised on a market basis’ (Federici 2009, 110). Similarly, there are serious limitations to the extent to which ecology and the environment can be reduced to market, and entirely anthropocentric, calculations. Tactics of commodifying care, environment and ecology' are an attempt to fit these experiences and existence into a pre-existing form. A form that, by its very nature of technologising being into capital, excludes and undercuts the value of unwaged labour or ecological stewardship.
The Enlightenment roots of modern liberal thought and modern law attempted to make nature calculable, a ‘calculable technics’ (Fritsch et al. 2018, 262). Thus, it is no surprise that an anthropocentric view of nature and climate crisis looks for human solutions to remedy human-made problems within an epistemology where the market economic system is assumed to be the solution to any problem. The ‘assumption of the naturalness of markets is crucial to the insistence that There is No Alternative’ (Massey 2013, 16). The notion that there is no alternative to the market, and thus to the status quo, shares similarities not only with gender and women’s work, but more broadly with the paradoxical incommensurability found within law as explored in Chapter 4. That the law does not hold the ground that we expect it to is hidden by a systematic, institutionalised and epistemologically affirmed insistence that law ‘is’ some-thing. Our environment and ecological circulation are likewise incommensurable. ‘It’ (eco - ecology, environment) does not exist somewhere. Any attempts to ‘save the environment’ already miss the point, and confuse the relationship between human and beings: ‘can we condemn anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism on the one hand — the human is the ultimate culprit - while embracing and reaffirming these centrisms with the other - the human is the only one who can save the day?’ (Kirby in Fritsch et al. 2018, 134—135). By attending to ecology and ‘eco’, we cannot ‘restore a lost purity’ (Fritsch et al.
2018, 13). The idea of purity in ego-logical modern epistemology technologises rather than releases sense.
Instead, ecology is a ‘bundling of forces and appearances with neither beginning nor end — an enfolding genesis were in every ending is an inventive reiteration, a beginning’ (Kirby in Fritsch et al. 2018, 129). Beings are not external to ecology': our sense is the only sense of the world and its ecosystem. But this sense is disruptive and relational. As ecotechnics illuminates, the relation within the world of ecology is a relation of interruption: the eco interrupts, disrupts and transgresses techne. By paying attention to sense, rather than the technologised action of‘saving’ or ‘preserving’ which aspires to a purity found in something or some form, our relationship to environment becomes one that nurtures the singular plural as ecology itself. The ecosociality of sense cannot but create a relationality, a sociality, where ecological environment is life and being. Following from this, I suggest that an ‘ethic of responsibility’, like relational ethics, can only function with a recognition of ecotechnics. With recognition of the sense that exceeds technological seizure and capital but circulates as the dwelling for all beings, singular plural still exists within techne. The techne is undeniable, but not total. Neither is the eco total. The ethical condition is precisely this movement, which is an interruption of any narrative of totality or completion (Lynes in Fritsch et al. 2018, 115). Modernity’s claim and stronghold rests on the idea that modern myths - law, nation-state, the autonomous individual - have the power to gain control and contain freedom, nature and truth. For instance, the human stepping in in the absence of divinity (see Latour 1991, 41). If, as I am exploring here, we instead are doing the opposite of containing, in other words are abandoned to freedom (Nancy 1993b, 37) in pluriversality, then this eco that we open onto can only bring disorder to the current standard of modern thinking and law. In Marder’s words, ecology is the ‘harbinger of crisis’for the dominant onto-epistemology (Marder in Fritsch et al. 2018, 142).
Crisis evokes negativity; it is bad, undesirable and immanent. For instance, the migration crisis, the labour/employment crisis, the climate crisis. But these ‘crises’, while irrefutably shedding light on suffering, and physical as well as normative violence (see Oksala 2018, 219), also force us to consider what is valued. These crises force us to ask, ‘what is the life worth living?’ (Kothari 2018, xxviii). The ‘phantasm of the world’s destruction [ecological, nuclear war] serves precisely to bolster a pretence of a common and shared world [иагіоя]’ (Wood in Fritsch 2018, 55), reinforcing the ‘ground’ or ‘home’ of the nation-state and citizenship. Released from yearning for this as a possible resolution to crisis as if resolution, or restoration, were ever possible, we have a response-ability to respond. This response-ability is not to constructs and categories, but to the
It should not be surprising then, that any radical attempt to deal with the ecological crisis is condemned as inevitably leading to economic disaster.
being singular plural: present, living, experience (as well as, arguably, to ghosts not yet born and dead see Derrida 1994, 15—16). It is a response-ability that is ‘as empty as it is absolute* (Nancy 2003b, 296). The barrage of information through media highlighting political, migration and ecological crisis has an ‘anesthetising effect’ that, through techne, diverts questions of responsibility (Barad in Fritsch et al. 2018, 208). The eco brings us back to basics. What are we able to respond to? What do we value? What are ‘we’? Abandoned, as we are in an ecosociality that offers no ground and no fixed home, we can only respond to the plural that is how, why, we are being.